Beacon NY; A Former Mill Town Built for Romance

** Post updated 11-22- 2017

WHY GO: Beacon NY grew up a mill town. Hunched at the foot of mountains and wedged between waterfalls and the navigable Hudson River, factories harnessing raging water eroded beauty from the landscape. Industrial waste turned the Hudson into “a sewer,” according to Beacon’s most famous resident, the late Pete Seeger.

When fortunes and industry fell, so did Beacon.  But then Seeger helped clean up the Hudson, and a contemporary art museum built to house installations too large for MoMa or the Guggenheim, carved from the closed Nabisco Box Printing factory, put Beacon back on the map. Opened in 2003, DIA:Beacon gave culture hounds a reason to come upriver for the day. The boutique hotel, Roundhouse at Beacon Falls, gave them a reason to stay. As more people came, artists, chefs and aspiring retailers did, too, creating the perfect overnight arts, shopping, and wine and beer-sipping Getaway.

Symmetrical grove of trees outside contemporary art museum in Beacon NY

Things To Do In Beacon NY

VISIT: Dia: Beacon. Visit the 300,000 square foot Dia: Beacon on the banks of the Hudson River, and you will be forced to face the question – What exactly constitutes “art”?  This former paper factory, glossed up and renovated for massive contemporary art installations opened in May 2003 and is drawing art students, historians and the merely curious to its soaring halls. Over two dozen masters of visual art from the 1960’s and 1970’s are featured in a space so vast it will take a relatively athletic person a couple of hours just to sprint through.  Mansion-sized galleries highlight Andy Warhol’s Shadows, minimalist Donald Judd’s simple wooden boxes, Sol LeWitt’s weblike drawings, Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light works and the macabre body parts and spiders from Louise Bourgeois tortured imagination. Thurs – Mon. 11am-6pm, $12 adults, kids under 12 free.

Bannerman Castle

TOUR: Bannerman Castle. What’s this ruin of a Scottish castle doing in the middle of the Hudson River? Take a hard-hat tour offered by the Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc. to find out. Oh, all right. I’ll give you some background. It was the “storage shed” of America’s first Army/Navy Store. As a pre-teen in the 1860’s an enterprising Francis Bannerman looked for ways to make money. Utilizing a grappling hook to dredge rope and scrap metal from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he learned that he could resell these government supplies.  In just a few years, young Bannerman had amassed a mountain of Civil War surplus, including bugles, buttons, swords, scabbards and uniforms in addition to military ordinance – so much, in fact, he opened up a very successful store in Brooklyn.

Guided tours of Bannerman Island on The Estuary Steward. Bannerman Island Tour Poster, Beacon NY

But Bannerman required a remote location to house his ever-growing collection of explosive materials.  In 1900, he discovered an island on one of his trips on the Day Liner up the Hudson and bought it for $1,600. Originally from Scotland and a lover of castles,  Bannerman had this organic-styled warehouse built from a variety of local bricks, cobblestones and boulders; a series of six buildings that ended up looking like a Scottish king’s abode. When Francis passed away in 1916, Bannerman Island passed down to his children. Two years after New York State purchased the island from the Bannerman family, in 1969, the castle caught fire and was engulfed in flames that reached 260 feet above the warehouse roof.  The wooden floors, old ships’ planks impregnated with highly flammable creosote, created an inferno that burned for three days, leaving the castle an empty, weed-choked shell. Plans are afoot to stabilize what’s left of the warehouse and restore the main residence. Take a 2 ½ hour tour aboard the Estuary Steward, a tour boat that shuttles you to the island and drops you off for a fascinating walk around the ruins. Boat leaves Beacon dock Sat. and Sunday May-October 12:30, $35 adults, $30 children. RSVP Necessary, tickets sell out quickly. See Bannerman Island article for tour details.

AIA Award for this Kayak shed on the Hudson River, Beacon NY

SEE: Kayak Pavilion at Long Dock Park. How many kayak storage sheds have won architectural awards?  I assume not many.  But this Hudson River kayak-port has won the AIA (American Institute of Architects) 2013 Honor Award and is as snazzy as they come. From the Pavilion, stroll out to the tip of the formerly industrial 15-acre Long Dock Park to scramble around George Trakas’s steel stair-step sculpture. Park open daily dusk to dawn.

Boardwalk to Hudson River in Beacon NY

DO/SUMMER: Kayak on the Hudson With Mountain Tops Outdoors. If it’s a nice day or evening, squiggle into your own craft with Mountain Tops Outdoors. You can rent by the hour or day – just stop in to the shop on Main Street. Or sign up for one of a few dozen group paddles organized throughout the summer.  Check website for dates and fees.  Kayak rentals $20 per hour, $50 per day;  2-hour Wed night Sunset paddles $20, Bannerman Castle Paddles $100. Check website for others.

DO/YEAR ROUND: Climb Mount Beacon. It’s a mile practically straight up and a nice lung expanding workout. But the views of the Hudson River and Valley are so worth it from the platform up top. Free, Open Dawn To Dusk. 

Glass blown ornaments in window of Hudson Beach Glass, Beacon NY

DO/WINTER: Hudson Beach Glass; Make Your Own Blown Glass Christmas Ornament. Occupying an 1890 repurposed firehouse, Hudson Beach Glass shop/studio/glassworks is a wonderland of color. Blown right on site, pieces can be pricey, but be assured that they are one of a kind. If you visit in November or December, resident glassblowers put a special extension on blowpipes so that you can make a custom Christmas ornament with some assistance.  Choose a color and texture, then make your very own orb in 15 minutes.  Pick it up the next day, or have it shipped home.  $35 from early November to New Years. Ages 6 and up. This DIY activity is becoming very popular so, RSVPs a MUST.

SHOP/WORKSHOP: Knot Too Shabby. Purchase something crafty from this upscale craft shop, or make something yourself. You can sign up for a Annie Sloan Chalk Painting Class, offered five times a month. 3 hours $120. 

SHOP: Beacon Talents. You’ll find jewelry, clothing, handbags, and other “event wear” you won’t find anywhere else at this very funky and fun boutique, including the bold-statement “Light Up” skirts, that, yes, light up ($180).

SHOP: reMADE. This “upcycle” shop will make you want to rethink your own trash. You’ll find functional items made from repurposed vacuum hose, license plates, driftwood, old birdcages, anything really. Plus, there’s a selection of “Beard Oil” for your favorite Brooklynite.

Play, Beacon NY

SHOP: Play. “Play” basically says it all. This is one fantastically awesome store, where Boomer nostalgia meets nods to Millennials, and is not in the least bit “politically correct.”  You’ll find everything from rock-climber earrings to Moomin Valley coin banks, adult coloring books, and even Vincent Van Gogh ear erasers. Plan to spend awhile here: you won’t believe what you’ll find.

Shelves of bar tools and selection of bitters at a shop in Beacon NY

SHOP: More Good. You won’t find a better selection of unusual “Bitters,” bar tools, house-made soda syrups, or loose leaf tea at better prices than this tiny shop on Main St.  Owned by a bartender who couldn’t find decent tools of his trade, he solved the problem by opening his own store. And what’s better than a bevy of bitters? Beneficence! More Good donates 10% of net profits to Generosity Water – an organization dedicated to ending the clean water crisis in developing countries.

Displays of fun plastic products at Dream in Plastic, Beacon NY

SHOP: Dream In Plastic. It figures this “Designer Vinyl Art Store” began online out of Brooklyn, NY.  You’ll find mini works of plastic art (starting at $4.95), stationary and paper goods like a “Decomposition Book” made with recycle materials ($8),  a shelf-full of vintage cameras, including the original Kodak Brownie, and a slew of Polaroid’s among a plethora of colorful plasticine paraphernalia.

Where To Eat and Drink In Beacon NY

DRINK/EAT: Two Way Brewing Co. A bit over 2 years ago, entrepreneurial Michael O’Herron took his Engineering degree and turned it into his passion: beer-making. Discovering a yeast strain on local black berries, he employed this newfound strain in the making of his signature, Saison-ish Confusion. You can down a pint of Confusion, or Farmhouse IPA or any number of brews from this small craft brewery named for the Hudson River – the tidal river, right outside the Brewery’s window, that flows two ways. Come in for great pub food and beer, and bring the kids (juice and healthy drinks for them). O’Herron stocks games for families who just want to hang out together at the end of the day. Open Thurs-Sunday – check website for hours. 

Dennings Point Distillery Beacon NY

TASTE: Denning’s Point Distillery. At Denning’s Point, New York State grains become Viskill and Maid of the Meadow Vodkas, Beacon Bourbon, Great 9 Gin, and Denning’s White Rye Whiskey. Come watch the process, take a tour (and a few sips), and enjoy live Blues Jam sessions the 2nd Saturday of each month from 4-7pm. Tasting room open Fri./Sat, 2-8pm (tours at 2pm, 3pm, 4pm), Sun 2-6. 

DRINK/EAT/MUSIC: Towne Crier. You’ll find blues, soul, rock, World Music, Open Mic, and more at this restaurant/performance venue smack in the middle of Maine St. Beacon. There’s something going on almost every night – just check the website for the latest.

EAT: Pandorica. When “Who-vians come through the door, there are squeals of delight,” says Pandorica owner, Shirley Hot, who closed down her “cup and saucer tea room” in this space and, in 2014, opened up a restaurant devoted to everything Doctor Who. Fans from all over the globe converge on Beacon NY for this restaurant alone: It’s the only Dr. Who themed restaurant in the world. On TV off and on since 1963, Doctor Who has a fan base aged 7-70, and it’s not unusual to see whole fan families gathered together to dine on Fish Fingers and Custard (Who’s favorite meal). “Art, silverware, furniture, menu items are all Who related,” says Hot.

Zora Dora's Natural Popsicles, Beacon NY

SNACK: Zora Dora All Natural Gourmet Popsicles.  This little hole in the wall sells only ice-pops – in flavors you never knew existed.  Try the “Mount Beacon” – a blend of pureed bananas, peanut butter, dark chocolate and Oreos.  Just $3 a pop!

SNACK/EAT: Tito Santana Taqueria. This place, at the foot of Main Street closest to the Hudson River, gets “crazy busy” in the summer. But on a Sunday at 4pm offseason, you don’t have to wait too long for one of the best (and best value) taco’s in the land. Ask for the incredible BBQ Smoked Brisket Taco ($3), stuffed with shredded beef and chopped onions, cloaked in sweet/tangy sauce, and you won’t be able to stop at just one.

Exterior shot of Homespun Foods restaurant in Beacon NY

EAT/LUNCH: Homespun Foods. So good, owners were offered the concession at DIA:Beacon, this adorable 50’s Formica-kitchen-kitsch café serves up the best fresh food in town.  Lines form out the door for meals like the Vegetarian “Meatloaf” – nutty and enhanced by a dollop of homemade smoky ketchup – with a large side-salad for $9.95.

Dining by window overlooking waterfall and Fishkill Creek, Beacon, NY

EAT: Roundhouse by Terrance Brennan. Star chef, Terrance Brennan recently took over the Roundhouse restaurant, and his Nose to Tail, aka “Whole Farm Cuisine,” with most ingredients sourced from the Hudson Valley, befits the stunning David Rockwell-designed dining room overlooking Fishkill Creek. Try for a table next to the curved bank of floor to ceiling windows with an ever-delightful view of the wild water, at night bathed in violet light. There are plenty of craft cocktails and beers on tap, but if you’re a hard-cider hound, you’re in luck: the Roundhouse offers 12 different kinds, including the “Naked Flock Citrus Cider,” with a local back-story worth hearing (ask your server).

For now, Brennan’s Nose to Tail offerings revolve around pork products and so on the Charcuterie Plate you’ll find Fig Ears, Pig Trotters and Bone Marrow among other meat offerings ($32 for 3).   But Chef is not only about meat – there are at least three Vegetarian options on the menu each night, and he tweaks fish like no-one’s business. The signature Ramen’s are deeply flavored and lip-smacking ($16), and the Day Boat Skate “Pastrami” turns Skate into a fish dish brined, smoked and spiced just like its cured beef version, and served with Cabbage and Rye Crumbs ($18 on Lounge Menu, $24 on Dining Room menu). Even if you don’t have room, go for the Lemon Diplomat – a thin disk of crisp meringue over lemon custard dusted with candied olives. Heavenly.

Where To Stay In Beacon NY

STAY: Roundhouse At Beacon Falls. A “Maven Favorite” – you can find the full write-up HERE. Opened in 2012 in a former dye-works (and then lawnmower) factory, The Roundhouse brought boutique cred to Beacon NY. Perched right over cascading waterfalls and boulder-strewn rapids, its crisp, industrial-luxe design drew urbane guests from NYC, giving them a reason to stay in town after visiting DIA:Beacon. Since November 2016, there’s another reason to stay or at least eat at the Roundhouse: Michelin-starred chef, Terrance Brennan has taken over the kitchen. Rooms and suites from $189-$750.

Hyatt House Fishkill NY

STAY: Hyatt House, Fishkill, NY. For those on a relative budget who still require the creature comforts of a stylish,friendly and comfortable hotel, the Hyatt House a few miles up Route 9 (just on the north side of I-84) is a great alternative. Large suites include a sitting room and bedroom, and are equipped with kitchen and pull-out couch.  A hot breakfast buffet is included in room rates  $95 – $160 per night.

Chester, CT to Haddam, CT – Charming Towns Just Six Miles Apart on the Connecticut River

WHY GO: Performing, fine and culinary artists, as well as clothing and building designers, have been drawn to the mesmerizing Connecticut River for centuries, and after indulging in this Getaway – to Chester, Haddam and East Haddam –  you’ll see why. Some of the best artists and chefs in the region create in local kitchens and studios, and since it reopened in 1968, the Victorian confection that is the Goodspeed Opera House has sent 19 productions to Broadway. See a musical, shop in one-of-a-kind (inexpensive) designer boutiques, and end the day with an exquisite meal on this show-stopping Connecticut Getaway.

Things To Do Along The Connecticut River

Downtown Chester CT

BEGIN in the tiny Artist Colony of Chester, CT. Contemporary artist Sol LeWitt, whose work can be found in most world-class modern art museums (and who died in 2007) made his home here, and many others have followed. It’s the perfect place to pick up handcrafted jewelry, art, clothing, and crafts directly from the artist for a lot less than you’d pay in New York.

Harvest Moon Chester CT

SHOP: Harvest MoonFormerly Elle Design, Harvest Moon, owned by the brightly named Erica Sunshine and Adam Pipkin, excels in modern design, using organic and salvaged materials. Furniture and home accessories are both unique and refreshingly moderately priced. You’ll find things here you won’t find anywhere else, like “guilt-free vegan antlers.”

Lark, Chester CT

SHOP: Lark. Lark’s tag line, “A Spirited Adventure,” remarks on the ’round the world aspect of this gift/jewelry/clothing/home goods shop that has expanded to nearly a block long. It’s lots of fun just to browse.

C & G, Chester CT

SHOP: C&G. Short for Cummings & Good, this unique clothing store focuses on neutral, subdued colors and interesting, unusual textures.  For both men and women, accessories and clothes are comfortable and, just as important, reasonably priced.

The French Hen, Chester CT

SHOP: The French HenYou’ll find eclectic home decor, jewelry, clothes, and gifts in this cute, artsy, feel good, independently owned shop.

impressionist painting of flowers with main street Chester CT - oil painting by Leif Nilsson - Spring Street Gallery

MEET: Impressionist Artist, Leif (pronounced like waif) Nilsson, who interprets the beauty of the Connecticut River and Chester in confetti-like brushstrokes, grew up in Old Lyme and was steeped in the special magic of its salt-marshes, sea views and the particular “Lyme” light that spawned the birth of American Impressionist Art. Full beard, sun-bleached blond hair and tanned sinewy body, Nilsson is the Nordic (and sane) version of Vincent Van Gogh – two ears intact.   He studied art all over the world, and then came back to the area to open The Spring Street Gallery (and make his home) in the former Greek-Revival 1830 Chester Hotel (no longer in operation) with his wife, photographer Caryn Davis (©Caryn B Davis Photography), whose latest photography book, A Connecticut Christmas, quickly sold out of its first printing and is fast becoming a coveted gift for the holidays.

Chester-Hadlyme Ferry

DRIVE: on Route 154 N. to Ferry Road (about ½ mile) to the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry (April 1- Nov. 30, $5 per vehicle). On the National Historic Register, this CT River crossing was established in 1769 (it’s the second oldest operating ferry in the country. The the oldest, in Glastonberry, is just upriver) and truly takes you back in time. The short, several minute trip will bring you to  Gillette Castle, the rough-hewn granite home of eccentric Sherlock Holmes actor, William Gillette.

Gillette Castle

VISIT: Gillette CastleEast Haddam. This eccentric, jaggedly organic medieval structure was conceived in 1919 by William Gillette – who made his fortune portraying Sherlock Holmes on stage. Though the majestic 184-acre grounds are open year round, you can tour the home only from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend ($6 adult, $2 child). It’s worth it to see the quirky interior, carvings and hardware.

DRIVE: Either cross back on the ferry, or drive 4 ½ miles to East Haddam on River Rd. N and take a left onto Route 84. This brings you to the Goodspeed Opera House and historic Steel Truss Swing Bridge.

WATCH FOR: American Bald Eagles. By the mid 1900’s, industrialization had taken its toll on most water bodies in the United States.  Lakes were aflame with combustible chemicals and sewage, toilets flushed directly into rivers and the Connecticut River Valley was loosing one of its most recognizable inhabitants – the Bald Eagle. DDT made Eagle eggshells weak, and breeding diminished to near extinction.   Only when the water was cleaned up, and after a 50-year absence (the last Eagle’s nest was documented in 1948 in Hamburg Cove) did the noble birds began to return.  These days, Eagle Cruises are the most popular attraction during the winter months, though you’re likely to see these symbols of America throughout the year.

DO: Cruise on Riverquest East Haddam. Under the Swing Bridge; Captain Mark Yuknat and his wife Mindy, provide a one and a half hour annotated ride on their 54’, 50-person vessel, Riverquest, with its mission to educate groups about the history, ecology and use of Connecticut’s mightiest river. Much of the land fronting the Connecticut River belongs to the Nature Conservancy, Lyme Land Trust or other wealthy landholders, and as such looks the way it must have looked when old Clippers got caught up on the ubiquitous sandbars that make the entrance to the Connecticut River so treacherous. The rare Virginia Rail bird still breeds here, and Ospreys find comfy accommodations in mid-river day markers. Cruise times and dates vary throughout seasons, $20pp for 90-minute day cruise. 

SEE: A Musical at Goodspeed Opera House. Built in 1876, marked for demolition in 1958, and saved at the 11th hour to be reborn in 1963, this beaut of a building right on the river (with dock space, even) is “dedicated to the preservation and advancement of musical theater.” On the docket for 2018: The Will Roger’s Follies, Oliver!, and Woody Allen’s Bullet’s Over Broadway.

Whitewashed Victorian building on banks of Connecticut River - Broadway Show House - East Haddam CT

Where To Eat Along The Connecticut River

Dining room of modern farm to table restaurant - white linen tablecloth - open kitchen. - River Tavern - Chester CT

EAT: River Tavern, Chester. Polished wood floors in a room fit for Yoga class, a teak and zinc bar set off by bright red stools and vibrant local art set the stage for tantalizing from-the-ground- fresh cuisine.

Grano, Chester CT

EAT: Grano Arso Chester. To say that the advanced buzz about this just opened (Nov. 2017)”locally inspired, seasonal, all natural” Italian restaurant, helmed by chef/owner Joel Gargano, has been extremely positive is an understatement. Locals are raving about this new kid on the block. Chef Gargano is particularly proud of using house-milled flour for his scratch as it gets Whole Grain Pasta.

EAT LUNCH: Simon’s Market, Chester; The heartbeat of Chester is Simon’s Market, a family owned breakfast/sandwich/gift shop that has become the de facto meeting place for locals.  “A lot of great ideas that have been implemented in town are dreamed up here,” locals admit.  Along with coffee and Morning Glory muffins, you can pick up some Meyers cleaning products, a Sigmund Freud Action Figure, pour-your-own olive-oil, and an ice-cream cone, among a bounty of other knickknacks.

EAT: Blue Oar. Haddam. From Mother’s Day to Labor Day, this Caribbean-yellow spot, ample decks filled with colorful tables and chairs, sparking lights, far from any downtown, overlooking the Connecticut River, is full to bursting. Great food and perfect setting for a night of bliss, it’s where river rats go when they grow up.  BYOB, Cash only.

Pattaconk Bar and Grill, Chester CT

DRINK: Pattaconk, Chester. In the mood for a Dogfish Head, Anchor Steam Beer or Sierra Nevada? Join the jolly crowd at the 1850 Pattaconk; where the outside patio generally throngs with serious lager drinkers till 2am.

Where To Stay Along The Connecticut River

Nehemiah Brainerd House, Haddam CT

STAY: Nehemiah Brainerd House. Haddam, CT.  It’s just six miles from Chester and three from the Goodspeed Opera House, run by the kind of people who say, “Our guests are either really nice, or really, really nice.”

Katharine Brush, Nehemiah Brainerd House, Haddam CT

Once owned by New York writer and glamour-girl, Katherine Brush, this stately 4 room, one-cottage B&B on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River had “gone to seed” by 2002 when Maryan and Jeff Muthersbaugh discovered it.  They worked on the home – part of it built in the 1700’s and two wings added in the 1920’s – every weekend for nearly seven years, then began taking guests in 2009. Since then, the Brainerd House has been featured on the HGTV show “If Walls Could Talk” and in 2011,Yankee Magazine bestowed its “Best Hilltop Cottage” in New England on the B&B’s separate honeymoon cottage.

Tea Set at Nehemiah Brainerd House, Haddam CT

Ask Maryan or Jeff to crank up the 1904 Columbia Records Graphaphone in the dining room (it still works; just missing a Fox Terrier) while you feast on a candlelit breakfast that includes Maryan’s sinful signature baked apple.

STAY: Two inns are just steps from the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.  Stay in opulent luxury at the Boardman House or welcoming comfort at the sweet Bishops Gate Inn, where “an expansive start-your-day breakfast” emerges from the “4-star kitchen.”

STAY: Chatfield Hollow Inn, Killingworth. Just 15 minutes from the CT River, Chatfield Hollow Inn is a trend-setting in the woods 5-room B&B – and another Maven Favorite with its own write-up HERE.

Easy Getaway From: New York City (107 miles); Boston (130 miles)

Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD: Mid-Atlantic’s Secret Extravagance

Entrance, Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

For luxury travelers, there really is only one place to stay in Carroll County MD: Antrim 1844. This baronial inn is actually the reason that many people come here, though it’s virtually unknown outside of the Mid-Atlantic. Arriving at the front door, I felt as if I’d been hiking in the deep dark remote woods and, in a clearing, discovered a Civil War era mansion with butler service, finery, champagne, and five star dining. My first view of the high ceilings, grand portraiture, and floating curved staircase in the entry foyer literally took my breath away.

Entry foyer, Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

Antrim 1844 encompasses 40 unique guest rooms in several buildings on beautifully landscaped grounds. Wine Spectator Magazine has bestowed its Award of Excellence upon the fine in-house Smokehouse Restaurant – with new chef, Andrew Fontaine, late of Napa County CA – and its 22,000-bottle wine cellar (in the original boiler room), 17 years in a row. On par with many Relais & Chateaux or Leading Hotels of the World properties, and on the Select Registry and the National Historic Register, this is not a dusty antique inn resting on its laurels. Kept up impeccably, I was surprised to have never heard about Antrim until now.

Built in 1844 by Col. Andrew Ege, and named for his ancestral home, Antrim was a 400-acre farm, and a Confederate encampment during the Civil War. You can still see Gettysburg from the top of the Widow’s Walk. By 1987, the home had been sitting vacant for 70 years, but was in good shape due to the vigilance of its neighbors.

Garden view from Main House Room, Antrim 1844

When Richard and Dorothy (Dort) Mollett purchased Antrim, there was no running water or electricity. The couple would shower in Baltimore after taking their kids to school each day. In 1988, Richard and Dort, an Interior Designer, opened four rooms as a B&B, and kept improving and adding to the rooms. Dort did much of the enhancements and decorating herself, which makes this place even more remarkable.

Smith House at Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

Not only did the Mollett’s rescue this home, they did the same for others in town. Smith House – with several rooms on the far side of the garden – was the home of a Taneytown piano teacher. It eventually fell into the hands of the local fire department that used it to set fires for training purposes. The Mollett’s purchased the Smith House for a $200 donation to the Fire Department and spent more money moving it than if they’d built a cottage from scratch on the property.

First Impressions of Antrim 1844

Reception, Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

After catching my breath, I walked to the reception desk, in a former parlor room right off the center hallway. Check in is rather laid back and friendly. The lack of pretention in such a place was refreshing.

Parlor, Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

Two grand rooms on the main floor, opulently and impeccably dressed down to the wallpaper that covers and hides electrical cords, impart an era of gentility rarely seen these days. The original horsehair plaster medallions in the ceiling above brass chandlers have been preserved, as the Mollett’s were able to snake electrical wiring through existing methane gas tubes originally used for lighting. Wavy glass windows are also original – almost all were intact when the Mollett’s purchased the place.

Widows Walk, Antrim 1844 Taneytown MD

If possible, ask to go up to the Widow’s Walk – accessible by ladder from the third floor. The views of the property and the land beyond are lovely.

Pool Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

I took some time to wander the grounds – through striking gardens, sculptural fountains, a croquet lawn, tennis courts, and a beautifully landscaped outdoor pool. Though it’s rather cold in October, I was not surprised to learn that the pool is the most popular spot on hot summer days.

Rooms at Antrim 1844

Guest Room, Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

My room, The Clabaugh Room in the Mansion, was a Ralph Lauren-esque envisioning of a swanky horse and hound retreat – complete with horse and hound wallpaper in the Carrera Marble bathroom, horse and hound paintings on deep blue walls, a large fireplace, carved four poster bed, fresh flowers, and other regal appointments.

Bathroom Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

Each of 40 rooms throughout the property, in fact, is distinctly decorated with Dort’s keen eye for design.

Turndown is elegant simplicity itself: one single red or pink rose on the soft white duvet: both soothing and romantic at the same time.

Food and Drink at Antrim 1844

A.M. coffee, Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

In the morning, breakfast is a two-part affair. Just before 8am, a tray with coffee and scrumptious muffins is presented by a mini-butler at your door. And then, between 8:30 and 10:30 – save room for a full made to order breakfast – frittata, quiche, yogurt, or grains, downstairs in the restaurant.

Pickwick Pub, Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

The Pickwick Pub is a great on-site spot to kick back with rare brandies, scotch, bourbons, and lots of local wine and beer.

Smokehouse Restaurant Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

Plan at least one dinner in the Smokehouse Restaurant (situated in the home’s brick smokehouse, meat-hooks still hanging from wooden crossbeams). Your meal begins, with drinks, passed appetizers, and some schmoozing, in one of the parlor rooms. Then, it’s off to the restaurant – part smokehouse, part summer kitchen – where a cistern drain lying horizontally across the brick floor still courses with water on rainy days.

Smokehouse Restaurant Antrim 1844 Taneytown MD

Dishes are excellent, and the menu, based on local farm availability, changes daily. Suffice it to say that the chef knows what he’s doing, and the beautifully plated foie gras, soup, salad, and steak or fish you order will be a knockout.

Just the Facts

Rooms from $205-$415 per night (depending on season, room, and day of week) include coffee/muffin delivery to room, made to order breakfast, afternoon tea, wi-fi and parking.

 

Carroll County MD: Zen Peaceful Between Baltimore and Gettysburg

WHY GO: In contrast to the sometimes frenetic surrounding areas, particularly the District of Columbia, Carroll County MD is “Zen Peaceful” – in only the way that an agricultural region can be. But what puts this Maryland county on this Maven’s Go List is a phenomenal inn whose owners are so humble, they’ve kept news of their superb establishment a secret, at least to regions beyond the Mid-Atlantic. But here’s the thing: Carroll County, which encompasses the towns of Westminster, Taneytown, Hampstead, Mt. Airy, and more, has some pretty quirky and compelling aspects, as well – including a world-renowned PEEPshow, a funky, Woodstock-esque pottery compound, remnants of a civilized way to care for poor families, a young trio of siblings making a splash in the winemaking world, great food, and of course, an ultra luxurious overnight.

Things to Do in Carroll County MD

Carroll County MD Visitor Center

STOP: Carroll County Visitor’s Center, Westminster. As the County Seat, Westminster, founded by William Winchester, is smack on the route from Baltimore to Gettysburg PA (about 1 ½ hour drive), and the perfect place to stop for a few hours or a few days. The Visitor’s Center is located in beautiful Emerald Hill: a whitewashed brick Pennsylvania farmhouse meets Georgian mansion that previously served as Town Hall. Come in for a chat, or to pick up some information and brochures. Open Mon-Sat. 9-4, Holidays 10-2.

Carroll County Farm Museum, Westminster MD

TOUR: Carroll County Farm Museum, Westminster. Let me preface this by saying that this is not your typical Living History Farm Museum. From 1852 until 1965, this was the county Alms House and 300 acre farm – where families and individuals who “lost everything” could work the land and live free – a most dignified and sensible way to take care of the destitute and homeless. Touring it, and its outbuildings and barns, is remarkably compelling.

Alms House Carroll County MD Farm Museum

The main home housed women and children. Men and older boys stayed in what we’d now consider dorm rooms in a separate building. Girls, beginning at age 13, and young men of 21 would be taught a trade, and work as indentured servants for room and board. At its height, about 90 people lived and labored here.

Bank Barn, Carroll County Farm Museum

When the Alms House closed in 1965, the buildings were in such good repair, they needed very little restoration. The Carroll County Farm Museum was opened in 1966 with the mission to foster “the preservation and proper appreciation of the rural culture of Carroll County and the spirit and the values which this culture typifies.”

Brick Oven, Carroll County Farm Museum

To that end, the dozen or so buildings on 160 remaining acres stand as they were. The home is decorated as it would have looked in the 1890’s for upper middle class caretakers who made $400 a year, and lived on the 2nd floor while the poor lived on the 3rd floor.

Mens Dorm Carroll County Farm Museum MD

The Men’s building has been converted into a showcase for different crafts and service jobs. There’s a blacksmith, and tinsmith, a large-animal veterinarian office, hearth kitchen with brick oven – and on weekends, lots of demonstrations. In outbuildings, there are farm implements and exhibits about the crops grown here. In the 20th century, this area of Maryland was rich in wormseed, a very labor intensive crop whose oil was used for myriad reasons: to rid the body of intestinal parasites, as an additive in women’s perfumes, and on ships’ hulls to repel barnacles. Locals could produce ten to fifteen gallons a day (synthetics killed the industry, however).

One barn displays Mail Wagons from the late 1890’s, when Westminster became an RFD. This newfangled personal delivery service faced resistance from local residents who looked forward to daily social interaction while picking up their mail from the General Store.

Hoff Barn interior Carroll County Farm Museum MD

The Hoff Log Barn, a 1794 Bank Barn, was built, as it blares on a large sign, “when George Washington was President.” Visitors learn that the largest animals were positioned near the door to prevent predators from entering, and kids love to test their strength against their 18th century counterparts by hoisting hay via a pulley system. This generally sparks discussions about the fact that farmers had to grow their own hay and grains for the livestock – as there were no feed stores. Open Mon-Fri 9-4:30, Sat 9-4, Sun. noon-4, $5 adults, $10 families, free Jan-March.

Carroll Arts Center, Westminster MD

GO: Carroll Arts Center, Westminster. Have you heard of the PEEPshow? That yearly extravaganza of art made entirely from the little yellow (and now multi-colored) marshmallow chicks associated with Easter Season? If so, you already know about the Carroll Arts Center in this small Maryland town. The original 1937 movie theater was beautifully renovated and reinvigorated in the early 2000’s, and is a vibrant place at all times – what with a constant stream of art shows, book talks, vintage movies, lectures, and theatrical performances. The annual ten day PEEPshow, however, is by far the Carroll Arts Center’s biggest event.

Carroll County Arts Council 2017 PEEPshow – A Display of Marshmallow Masterpieces! Featuring more than 150 sculptures, dioramas, graphic arts, oversized characters and mosaics created and inspired by Peeps®!

It all began ten years ago, after Executive Director, Sandy Oxx, submitted her “Peep With A Pearl Earring” diorama into the Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest and was rejected. Undeterred, Oxx decided to launch her own competition, widening it to include sculptures and PEEPs art of all sizes (e.g Game of Thrones Dragon was made up of 5,000 Peeps). Over the past decade the PEEPshow has turned into a major happening, bringing upwards of 27,000 of people from all over the world who line up around the block to see the latest creations every late March or early April (2018 dates; March 29-April 10). This is Carroll Arts Center’s biggest fundraiser, and helps cover its annual operating costs. However, according to Oxx, “we’re much more than marshmallows.”

HIstorical Society of Carroll County Westminster MD

VISIT: Historical Society of Carroll County, Westminster. Still in a bit of flux, pop in to the 1800 Kimmey House to see vignettes of the area from centuries ago. I bet you didn’t know that venetian blinds were used in fancy 1700’s homes! Open 9-5 Tues-Fri.

Off Track Art Gallery, Westminster MD

SHOP: Off Track Art Gallery, Westminster. This seven-partner art gallery, across from The Cup Café, and right beside the railroad tracks (hence the name), features unusual and eye catching wall art, home goods, and jewelry.

Ken and Marty Hankins, Shiloh Pottery, Hampstead MD

TOUR/SHOP: Shiloh Pottery, Hampstead. Shiloh Pottery owner, Ken Hankins, looks (and acts) like Santa Claus as rendered by Mad Magazine. A clay-master for decades, his creations tend toward the whimsical – such as serving bowls stamped with a dozen white sheep and one black. His latest – funky chickens – are flying off the shelf. “I just can’t make them fast enough.”

Chickens, Shiloh Pottery, Hampstead MD

If you’ve ever wondered where Woodstock went, it packed up and moved to this jumble of buildings, playground, chickens, woodworking and ceramic shops on land that used to be a “Kosher Jewish Summer Camp” – with pond, pool, and recreational opportunities for Baltimore kids from 1967-1976.

Sink Dragons Shiloh Pottery Hampstead MD

Ken, who has a Masters in Ceramics Education and his wife, Marty, took over and ran Shiloh as a Pottery Camp. The Hankins were educators (Ken has been teaching at McDaniel College for 45 years), and in their semi-retirement, now offer workshops and classes for kids and adults onsite. Ask Ken to show you the Rube-Goldberg-esque faucet system in his studio-classroom sink – with clay dragons spitting out water from a multitude of hoses.

Addirondack Chairs, Shiloh Pottery Hampstead MD

If clay is not your thing, sign up for a four hour make and take Adirondack Chair workshop – on a select few Sundays for now. For just $150 (includes materials), you can make your own outdoor chair, and take it away.

Union Mills MD

TOUR: Union Mills Homestead, Union Mills – 7 miles west of Westminster. A gem of a home in the middle of nowhere, you’ll travel on undulating back roads, traversing farmland with split rail fences, to get to the Shriver homestead, Union Mills – both domicile and business center for B.F. Shriver Company, which operated Union Mills as merchant millers from 1870’s – 1940’s.

Front porch, Union Mills Shriver Homestead MD

In 1797, brothers Andrew and David Shriver built two 14 x 17 ft homes side by side near a creek and set up their gristmill, sawmill, tannery and other shops. Andrew arrived with his wife and six children; David was a bachelor at the time. The home’s last occupant was the artistic and quirky Bessie Shriver Kemp, who planted the property’s beautiful gardens and passed away in 1957. A tour brings you through the two homes, linked together and expanded over 160 years – six generations – of the Shriver family. And yes, this is the same family that eventually merged with the Kennedy Family when Sergeant Shriver, Jr. married Eunice Kennedy. A wonderful tour weaves together tales of both branches of the family, and ends at the still operational gristmill.

Andrew’s side of the house grew faster by necessity, as he and his wife arrived with six children, who originally slept in a loft upstairs. Andrew eventually became Postmaster of Union Mills, and so his living room became the Post Office.

Gristmill exterior, Union Mills MD

In 1824, Thomas Jefferson appointed David Superintendant of Roads (you can see a copy of Jefferson’s missive on Monticello letterhead), so Shriver established a toll road that led to his house and multiple businesses. Union Mills became an important “whistle stop” for celebrities of the day. Francis Scott Key addressed a crowd from the home’s balcony, Washington Irving stayed overnight. James Audubon watched a Baltimore Oriel build a nest in a nearby willow tree, and we all know what he did with that observation.

Wooden machinery, Union Mills MD

In the early days, furniture, like the feather-painted corner hutch, was made on site and much of those pieces are still here. Though the sawmill is gone, the gristmill has been brought back to life. It’s original millstones and recreated wooden shafts and gears provide an accurate depiction of how grain was milled 200 years ago. It is quite thrilling to see how the gears move and hear the rumbling of the completely wooden apparatus, put together with dowels rather than nails. “There are no other mills in Maryland quite like this,” says a docent. Open May and Sept. weekends only noon-4, June-August Tues-Fri. 10-4, Sat/Sun noon-4, $5 for house and gristmill tour.

Taneytown Historical Museum MD

VISIT: Taneytown Historical Society, Taneytown. You’ll often discover the essence of a small town at its Historical Society Museum, and Taneytown MD is case in point. On display are two Taneytown-made Eli Bentley clocks; one made exclusively in the late 1700’s for Michael Waggoner, a Revolutionary War hero whose name graces the clock face. That one was purchased at Sotheby’s and donated to the Historical Society, as Bentley lived in Taneytown, the other donated after serving time in a nearby funeral home for decades.

Mason-Dixon Marker, Taneytown Historical Museum MD

Also exhibited is a rare Mason/Dickson Line marker stone– emblazoned with an M (Maryland) on one side and P (Pennsylvania) on the other. There are artifacts and papers from when Taneytown was a thriving cultural and business center – after the railroad arrived in 1872 folks from all around would come here to shop in department stores, and see traveling shows at the Opera House.

Entrance, Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

And then, there’s beloved Antrim – a summer home built in 1844, owned by the Clabaugh Family for 100 years, and sold to George Crouse, Sr in 1961. Crouse, who never moved in, saw to it that Antrim wasn’t vandalized. Though it sat vacant for nearly 75 years, thanks to a very protective community the original windows were intact when Richard and Dorothy (Dort) Mollett purchased it in 1987 and opened it up as a B&B the following year. Antrim 1844 is now among the most beautiful inns in the country and the place to stay for a romantic getaway (see below under Where to Stay). Open Fri. 10-2, Sat/Sun 1-4, Spring through Fall.

Drew Baker, Old Westminster Vineyards MD

TASTE: Old Westminster Winery, Westminster. Owned by young couple Drew and Casey Baker, and Drew’s two sisters, Old Westminster Winery is the answer to “What do we do with a family farm when our parents don’t want to farm it?” To that end, Drew and his wife Casey, along with Lisa – a Chemistry major turned winemaker, and Ashley, who, with Drew, was a Business major, banded together to create this up and coming family winery. They hired a French Vineyard consultant, planted their first 7,600 vines in Spring 2011, and bottled the first vintage in Spring 2013.

Hand picked grapes, Old Westminster Winery MD

Experimentation, says Drew, is a core Old Westminster principal. “We make delicious unadulterated Maryland grown wine.” Many blends are “no-makeup-wines,” in other words, authentic vintages without any additives. “Everything is done by hand: powered by sweat, not oil.”

250 year old oak tables, Old Wesminster Winery MD

Though their classic red blends are popular, including the deep, dark, mostly Merlot and Cabernet Franc Black, Old Westminster is known for its unique “pet nat” blends – in the bottle within a month of harvest. An ancient, now resurging method of sparkling winemaking, most of the fermentation happens in the wine bottle. What Drew calls a “dancing wine,” pet-nat is more effervescent than the hard-core bubbly-ness of Champagne, and seems to be the drink of choice for Millennials. Old Westminster was among the first in the county to employ pet-nat in the making of wines, and after releasing its first, The Daily Meal ranked Old Westminster among the Top 101 wineries in the USA.

The Baker sibs are now in the midst of expanding. Adding to their 17 Clarksburg acres, they’ve purchased 117 acres on Burnt Hill in Montgomery County, and will soon be releasing wines under the Burnt Hill label. For now, come to the lovely tasting cottage outside of Westminster for a tasting flight – and sit at 250-year-old-oak topped tables, milled from a tree that fell on the property. Tasting Room open Sat/Sun noon-5.

 

Hal Roche Serpent Ridge Vineyard, Westminster MD

TASTE: Serpent Ridge Vineyard, Westminster. This very small two person Mom and Pop vineyard is owned by Hal Roche and Karen Smith – who moved here in Feb ’14 and produce some easy drinking reds and whites. Serpent Ridge is such a small operation, Roche and Smith cork bottles by hand using the newfangled “Zork” – a bottle sealing device that’s a snap to remove and reseals easily after opening. Open Wed-Fri 12-5, Sat/Sun 10:30-6.

Devilbiss Store, Uniontown MD

EXPLORE: Uniontown. So small, it will take only a minute to drive through, Uniontown is historically significant in that so many Civil War era homes line Main Street (a toll road that originally cost 3 cents to traverse), the whole district is on the National Historic Register. Uniontown Academy (no longer there) was the first school to teach German immigrants English in the 1700’s. The first telephone in town was installed in the still-standing Devilbiss Store in 1908. And, on a somber note, as Uniontown was on the road to Gettysburg, many soldiers marching through took time to pen letters to loved ones, some sending their very last sentiments postmarked from the Uniontown Post Office.

COLLEGE: McDaniel College, Westminster. Formerly Western Maryland College, (which was confusing because it wasn’t in Western MD), this was the first co-ed university south of the Mason-Dixon line. Now, McDaniel College is world renowned for its Masters in Deaf Education.

Where to Eat and Drink in Carroll County MD

Gypsys Tea Room Westminster MD

LUNCH/TEA: Gypsy’s Tea Room, Westminster. It makes sense to enjoy this most English of rituals in William Winchester’s home, built in 1760, when the US was still a British colony. Owner Gypsy Jo Flack provides that elusive “personal touch,” welcoming every guest warmly into her gift shop, though a warren of intimate rooms – and even into the kitchen to make scones with her on select dates. Though not ostentatious, this is a complete Tea with all the bells and whistles – scones and clotted cream, cucumber sandwiches, baked goods, and of course, you choice of tea. You will not leave hungry. Afternoon Tea available daily 11-3, $26 pp.

Cup Tea Bar Cafe Westminster MD

EAT/LUNCH: Cup Tea Bar Cafe, Westminster. There’s an assortment of grilled cheese, from classic to gourmet, at this funky soup, salad, and sandwich shop on Westminster’s Main St., with live music on weekends and a decidedly college-town vibe.

Fratelli’s, Hampstead MD

EAT/DINNER: Fratelli’s, Hampstead. “People come here just for the crab cakes,” says the waiter, which is strange, since this is your basic, casual, neighborhood-choice Italian restaurant. The pastas and other Italian specials are good, too. But, yes, it’s the huge all-meat crab cakes (one $18, 2 for $29) that shine here.

Baugher Farms Westminster MD

ICE CREAM/FARM MARKET: Baugher’s Family Farm. Baugher’s is widely known in the region as a “pick-your-own” farm as well as farm-stand and homemade ice-cream parlor. In the fall, you’re bound to see crates upon crates of apples.

EAT: Locals love Brick Ridge Restaurant in Mt. Airy – a “farm-to-table” eatery before its time, Rock Salt Grill in Westminster for great burgers and shrimp, and Maryland Mallett also in Westminster for steamed crabs and BBQ,

Where to Stay in Carroll County MD

Guest Room, Antrim 1844, Taneytown MD

STAY: Antrim 1844, Taneytown. For luxury travelers, there really is only one place to stay in Carroll County – and actually the reason that many people come here, though it’s virtually unknown outside of the Mid-Atlantic. As a strongly recommended Maven Favorite, the complete write-up can be found HERE.

What Should You Do On Nantucket MA? Everything!

Brant Point Lighthouse Nantucket MA

WHY GO: Most people come to the island of Nantucket MA for the beaches. Or the boutiques. Or the highly respected cuisine. But Nantucket, 26 miles off the Massachusetts coast – the most remote of all New England islands – is so steeped in history, the whole landmass has been declared a National Historic Landmark.

Nantucket Distance Sign

First settled by Europeans in 1659, by the 18th and 19th centuries Nantucket was the center of the Whaling Industry. When whaling companies decamped for New Bedford on the mainland after a fire in 1846 destroyed a good portion of downtown, the end of one industry opened the door for another – recreation. By the late 1800’s Nantucket was a thriving summer resort, mostly for well-heeled travelers, and has been ever since. So, of course, come here for the beaches, shopping, and restaurants – but be sure to delve into Nantucket’s dramatic history. Members of the Nantucket Historical Association, “the keepers of Nantucket’s heritage,” make it fun and engaging. Start here:

Things to Do on Nantucket

Whaling Museum Nantucket MA

GO: Nantucket Historical Association Whaling Museum. The skeleton of a 46 ft bull sperm whale hovers perilously over a harpoon packed whaling skiff – the centerpiece of the Nantucket Whaling Museum. Over the past few decades, this once small whaling museum has expanded into a world-class institution, run by the noteworthy Nantucket Historical Association, which also manages several other worthy historic sites on the island. The unfortunate whale washed ashore nearby on January 1, 1998, and despite attempts to revive it, the whale died (most likely from a tooth infection). Now, the bones of this monster best demonstrate what whaling crews had to harpoon and wrestle with in order to drag it aboard for processing. One young sailor wrote about the “blood stained decks,” and “huge masses of flesh and blubber lying here and there” on a typical whaling ship.

Scrimshaw Whaling Museum Nantucket MA

Nantucket whalers went out for months, sometimes years, at a time, and crews tended to be very diverse: many from the Azores, but others fugitive slaves who found a life at sea the best way to throw slave hunters off the trail. Nantucket was a true melting pot before its time. The men aboard whaling ships were the first Americans to explore the islands of the South Pacific, bringing back bamboo and rattan used in distinctive Nantucket decorative arts. Life onboard was often boring, so sailors would pass the time by carving or etching whalebone and creating gifts for their loved ones – like scrimshaw, corset stays, pie-crimpers, and combs.

View from Whaling Museum Observation Deck, Nantucket MA

Begin with the Island-In-Time exhibit, which illuminates 5,000 years of Nantucket history, from the Wampanoag natives, to the first nine English settlers in 1659, who grew to a population of 9,700 by 1840 while the local tribe dwindled through illness and alcoholism from 3,000 to 800 and then to basically none. Upstairs, several galleries feature temporary exhibits, and one permanent, which happens to be my favorite – the Decorative Arts – showcasing shelves and shelves of elaborate scrimshaw on whales teeth, rolling pins, pipes, and other work of crafty sailors. It’s one more floor up to the Observation Deck, which on nice days is a great spot to sit and just chew on the exceptional views of town, and the open-mouth ferry and wharves in the harbor below. It’s a not so secret meeting place, and quiet space for a breather. Museum open Sat/Sun mid-Feb to mid April 11-3, Mid April to Memorial Day daily 11-4, Memorial Day thru October daily 10-5, $20 adults, $5 kids for “All Access Pass” that includes entry to other NHS properties.

Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum Nantucket MA

VISIT: Egan Maritime Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum. A bit out of town, this fantastic museum, celebrating it’s 50th and 10th anniversaries (first for its initial opening, second for its 2007 expansion) is worth the bike ride, or even a taxi ride to see. Shoals surround this 14-mile long crescent moon shaped island: over 700 ships have run aground around Nantucket – and continue to do so. Nantucket has been a magnet for shipwrecks since men set off in ships: the last one in 1995, when the Panamanian cruise ship Royal Majesty lost its bearings and ran aground on the Rose & Crown shoals (floating off, without any injuries, at high tide).

Heroic Maritime Lifesavers, Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum Nantucket MA

Between 1700 and 1900, over 200 ships a day from all over the world sailed to or within miles of Nantucket, with no GPS. Using only a clock, sexton and compass, many ran up on the shoals, and were broken up by the waves. In wintertime, crews on wrecked ships would often die of exposure, impelling the Boston Humane Society (when it was still “human” oriented) in 1775-1780 to build unmanned shacks on beaches stocked with blankets and stoves so that victims of wrecks could survive the night. (The four “Humane Houses” that remain on the island have been turned into summer homes).

Schooner Witherspoon, Shipwreck Lifesaving Museum Nantucket MA

In 1871, the US Government formed the U.S. Lifesaving Service with paid crews. (The first Lifesaving Station on Nantucket– near Surfside – is now the Star of the Sea Youth Hostel). In 1915, the Service merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard. Learn about early lifesaving techniques, like the “Breaches Buoy” – a method of rescue utilizing a zip-line shot from shore to distressed vessel (last used in 1962 when helicopters couldn’t get to a ship listing near shore). On January 10th 1886, battling strong winds, snow, and heavy seas, the Schooner Witherspoon ran aground, and even though men of the Lifesaving Service on land came almost immediately, the sailors were so frozen, it took them hours just to set up the breaches buoy. A copy of a painting by a witness to the scene is on view along with a splinter from the ship.

Lightship Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum

Other famous disasters happened far from shore. The Nantucket Lightship – sitting miles from land to ward sailors off the shoals – was once called the “Statue of Liberty of the Sea,” as it was the first light mariners would see while sailing from Europe. (Lightships were decommissioned in the 1980’s and were replaced by buoys). On May 15 1934, the sister ship to the Titanic, the Olympic, was following a radio beacon sent from the Nantucket Lightship when the large Ocean Liner rammed and sunk the smaller boat – killing 7 people onboard. And a more recent and well known tragedy that could have been much worse:  the SS Andrea Doria heading to New York on July 25th, 1956, with 1,706 people aboard, collided with the MS Stockholm about 45 miles south of Nantucket. Though 46 people died, many more were saved, as it took over 11 hours for the ship to sink and other ships in the area took part in rescue efforts.

Map of Nantucket Shoals Shipwreck Lifesaving Museum

The beauty of this museum is that shipwrecks come to life here, especially if you enlist a docent who interjects personal tales and adds drama. You’ll also hear about island characters like Millie, who lived next door to Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers”) in Madaket, and see life preservers made entirely of cork, spurring one visitor to quip, “that’ll take a lot of wine!” Open Memorial Day to Columbus Day, $10.

Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum MA

VISIT: Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum. The Nantucket Lightship Basket is easily identifiable the world over, though you have to come to Nantucket (or order online from here) to obtain this truly authentic piece of folk art. The woven baskets made from strips of rattan brought back to Nantucket on Pacific-Island-bound whaling ships were first painstakingly fashioned in the 1870’s by men manning the Nantucket Lightship – essentially a floating lighthouse. What came to be known as “Lightship Baskets” were initially given to wives and used to carry crops from fields and gardens.

Eleanor Roethke, volunteer, Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum

But, in 1948, Jose Reyes, protégée of basket-maker, Mitchy Ray, tweaked the utilitarian Lightship Basket, scaling down its size, giving it a cover, ivory clasp, and curved wooden handle. When Charlie Sayles, another famous artisan, placed a carved ivory whale on the lid of this new “Friendship Basket” in the 1950’s, a Fashion Icon, not to mention a coveted Nantucket souvenir, was born. From 1948 until his death in 1978, it’s estimated that Reyes made over 5,000 signed baskets. This very localized form of art is not dying out, thanks to current artisans who are learning from 3rd and 4th generation basket makers. Watch an amateur weaver at work (in photo, Eleanor Roethke, volunteer), see a 12 minute video about the history of the craft, and peruse some of the oldest baskets. Museum open Memorial Weekend to Columbus Day Weekend, Tues-Sat 10-4:30.

Greater Light interior Nantucket MA

TOUR: Greater Light. Not to be confused with the Great Point Lighthouse marking the Northernmost end of Nantucket, Greater Light was the home of a couple of eccentric Quaker sisters, Philly born Gertrude and Hannah Monaghan, who never married and, in 1930, converted an old livestock barn into a “found object” work of art. The sisters had been summering on Nantucket for years, with their wealthy parents, and had garnered a quirky, artistic following. Gertrude as muralist and Hannah as actress and playwright would mount theatrical shows in the large sunlit central room, where now, most furniture is original to the home, and art on the walls came from Gertrude’s own hand.

Greater Light Bedroom Nantucket MA

Most of the architectural elements in this creative abode came from demolition sites, and just “fell into place,” according to the sisters. They procured church windows that also serve as patio doors, and secured the wrought iron railings framing an interior “Romeo and Juliet” balcony from a demolished Philadelphia building. Though the sisters entertained often, they maintained a religious, almost monastic personal life. Their convent-like bedrooms are dark and churchlike, with bubbled yellow glass windows. Gertrude and Hannah called them “rooms of Golden Light.”

Fire Hose Cart House Nantucket MA

VISIT: Fire Hose Cart House, NHA Site. Built in 1886 this small barn is the last remaining 19th century firehouse on the island. Here, you’ll watch a video about the harrowing Fire of July 13, 1846, when a “tiny tongue of flame in a hat shop leapt from a stovepipe into a wall,” setting off a chain reaction that would leave a third of downtown, where the dry goods, grocery and provisions stores were located, in cinders. Nothing in that area survived, necessitating a call for help from off-island. The human-pulled Cataract # 6 was one of the only Hose Carts to survive the Great Fire.

Jethro Coffin House Nantucket MA

VISIT: Jethro Coffin House – the “Oldest House in Nantucket in its Original Location,” NHA Site. Sitting up a hill on its lonesome, this Saltbox home was Nantucket’s largest structure when first built in 1686 as a wedding gift from Jethro’s big shot Dad, Peter Coffin. Peter maintained a financial interest in the New Hampshire Lumber Co., which came in handy, as the brush and spindly trees on Nantucket were useless in construction. In the mid 1600’s, wood had to be imported from the mainland or scavenged from shipwrecks.

Interior Jethro Coffin House Nantucket MA

At age 23, Jethro married Mary, 16, and they were fruitful and multiplied. Mary and Jethro had 8 children, raising 6 in this “over the top McMansion of the day,” and lived here for 20 years. Though the original portrait of Mary is in the Nantucket Whaling Museum, there’s a copy here, and you’ll want to take a close gander: she looks exactly like a Gilbert Stewart rendering of George Washington.

Old Gaol Nantucket MA

TOUR: Old Gaol, NHA Site. Pronounced “jail,” this 1805 Garrison-style prison is one of the oldest in the country. While hardened ciminals were shipped off the island, this is where low level petty thieves and prostitutes were locked up. Now in a residential area surrounded by houses, it was first built next to a House of Corrections (halfway house for orphans and the homeless) and judicial area. Inside, four rooms – two on each floor – held two prisoners each and was quite cushy compared to overcrowded jails of the day.

Old Gaol Cell Nantucket MA

Each prisoner had his own bunk, chamber pot, and some wood for the stove heater. Take the tour to hear engaging stories of those who spent time here, including a town drunk who embezzled from the bank and “must have had connections,” as he lived upstairs in “the penthouse” for three years, made baskets, read books, and was granted a pardon from President Cleveland. The Gaol served as the town’s penal facility until 1933.

Old Mill Nantucket MA

TOUR: Old Mill. Built in 1756, this Dutch windmill is the oldest functioning mill in the United States and opens for tours and demonstrations. Going inside to see the workings of this early machine, the advanced technology of the day, is completely mindblowing.

Nantucket Cobblestone Streets

TOUR: Nantucket Historical Association Downtown Walking Tour: As you stroll the cobblestone and brick-line Historic District, you’ll learn about Nantucket’s transformation from the Whaling Capital of the World to a world-class destination, with a stop at the Quaker Meeting House and Greek Revival Hadwen House. 1 ½ hour tours Mid-May-October, daily 11:15 and 2:15, $10 per person.  

Nantucket Atheneum

 STOP: Nantucket Athenaeum. One of the only grand structures to survive the great fire of 1846, this neoclassical library makes it on many an Instagram page.

G.L. Brown Basket Maker Nantucket MA

SHOP: Brown Basket Gallery, South Wharf. Come down to the waterfront to visit the man and his handiwork. G.L. Brown, one of the very few authentic Nantucket Lightship Basket makers in business for over 40 years, has invented some of his own styles in addition to traditional ones.

Just Off the Wharves, in Nantucket MA

ORIENTATION TOURS: If you only have a few hours, or want to get the lay of the land right off the ferry, opt for one of several sightseeing tours that all run about 1.5 to 2 hours, and bring you to all points on the island. Choose from Barrett’s Tours or Nantucket Island Tours – in coach buses; Gail’s Tours in a luxury Mercedes Benz van, or a custom tour (or just a ride somewhere) with Val’s Cabs.

Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge Nantucket MA

TOUR: Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge. Owned by the Trustees of Reservations, these 1,117- acres of beach, salt marsh, sand dunes, and “forests” of wind-sheared oak and cedar, on the far northern end of the island, allows very limited access. The Great Point Lighthouse now standing was built in 1986 to replace the 1816 structure destroyed during a punishing coastal storm in March 1984. The best way to experience this Refuge is via 3 hour Natural History 4X4 Oversand Vehicle Tour offered Thurs-Mon 9am and 1pm, $60 adults, $20 kids (though not recommended for children under 5).

Wild Nantucket Surfside

GUIDED HIKE: Nantucket Walkabout with Peter Brace. Yet another way to experience the wild side of Nantucket (and we’re not talking Bachelorette Parties here), experienced naturalist, Peter Brace, takes visitors on a 2 hour exploration of his favorite untamed places, with constant commentary on the natural aspects of the island. He’ll even pick you up! Year round, $40 adults, $20 kids

Sankaty Lighthouse and Bluffs Nantucket MA

PHOTO OP: Sankaty Lighthouse. Take the bus or bike about 9 miles from town to Sankaty Lighthouse – most remarkable for the bluff eroding so quickly, the structure had to be moved in 2007. The “ocean from Portugal” has been pounding against the sand here for so long, in fact, Herman Melville himself remarked on it in July 1852 when he visited this light – built just two year earlier. He claimed, “The sea has encroached upon that part where their dwelling-house stands near the light-house, in a strange and beautiful contrast, we have the innocence of the land eyeing the malignity of the sea.”

First Congregational Church Nantucket MA

CLIMB: First Congregational Church Steeple Tower. Whaling captain’s wives paced these “widow’s walks” while waiting for their men to return from the sea. The tower, with sweeping views of the town and island, is open for visitors with hearty lungs (94 steps to the top). Open Mon-Fri 10-2, $5.

Maria Mitchell Aquarium Nantucket MA

VISIT: Maria Mitchell Assoc. Science Center and Observatories. Maria Mitchell, the first “Professional Female Astronomer in the USA,”  was born on Nantucket and was also a naturalist, librarian and educator who believed in “learning by doing.” The Association operates 2 observatories, a natural science museum and aquarium, and preserves Mitchell’s birthplace.

Sunset Madaket Beach Nantucket

SUNSET: Madaket Beach. Join the hordes on clear evenings to watch the sun set over Nantucket Sound. It’s a few miles from town, so either ride your bike or arrange a ride. Remember, you’ll be on the road again when it’s dark.

Transportation

GETTING TO NANTUCKET: Steamship Authority, Hyannis MA. Short of flying in or hitching a ride on your friend’s yacht, Steamship Authority’s Nantucket Ferry is the most popular and consistent way to get to the island, especially if you need to bring your car, as no other ferry service offers it. Car transport is expensive – $225 each way (total with driver at $18.50 each way adds up to nearly $500 round trip) so bringing your car is best for families renting a seasonal house or for people with second homes on the island.

On Nantucket Ferry Steamship Authority

Consider bringing a bike only – at $7 each way, your round trip cost is just $51 on the slow ferry that takes 2 1/4 hours. The Steamship Authority also runs high-speed ferries out of Hyannis – taking one hour – at $69 round trip.

Hy-Line Cruises (no cars) operates year round multiple times a day from Hyannis MA ($77 round trip in season, less offseason), and another high-speed Sunstreak Ferry out of New Bedford MA operates between Memorial Day and Labor Day (no cars, $70 weekdays, $90 weekends round trip).

Bikes in Downtown Nantucket MA

RENT BIKE/CAR: There are plenty of bike rental shops as soon as you exit the ferry wharfs, so even if you don’t bring one, you can rent one. From town, Cisco Brewery is 3.8 miles, Madaket Beach is 6.2 miles, and Sankaty Light is nearly 9 miles – all on wide and easy bike baths that thread the island. Young’s Bicycle Shop (also rents cars), Nantucket Bike Shop, Easy Riders Bicycles, Cook’s Cycles (also rents mopeds and Jeeps), Nantucket Island Rent A Car (at the Airport), Affordable Rentals for cars.

BUS: The NTRA “Ride the Wave” has routes all over the island. May-mid October, 7am – 11:30 pm.

Where to Eat on Nantucket

Ciscos Brewery Nantucket MA

EAT/TASTE/BEER/WINE/BOOZE: Cisco Brewers. As you might tell from the category, this is not just a brewery. Cisco encompasses Nantucket Winery, Cisco Brewery, and Triple Eight Distillery, a gift shop, a live music venue, and various food trucks – in all a party year round on grounds seemingly expanding by the minute. Take your food and drinks to an open-air patio replete with picnic tables, and room to dance if the spirits move you. A few miles out of town, you can either bike here, cab it, or take the free shuttle that leaves every 15 minutes from the Visitor’s Center downtown. Open Mon-Sat 11-7, Sun 12-6.

EAT: Black Eyed Susan’s. The food is fantastic in this sleek sailing yacht- wide restaurant. Winning raves for both its breakfasts and dinners – a feat in and of itself – served either on the luncheonette counter or a few tables, we were happy with fresh salads, and minimally fussed with entree’s like pasta  touched only by sautéed tomatoes, garlic, and not much else.

American Seasons Nantucket MA

EAT: Many locals claim that there is not a bad meal to be had on the Island, as excellent restaurants have raised the bar: a “rising tide lifts all boats” effect. That said, of course, there are favorites: hit up Millie’s on Madaket Beach for awesome sunsets and seafood, Cru at the end of Straight Wharf for oysters and lobster rolls with a harbor view, Dune in downtown for modern American cuisine, The Nautilus for “rustic seafood-centric small plates,” and American Seasons – a lowlit huntsman-cabin-chic favorite, with innovative cuisine and top notch service.

Where to Stay on Nantucket

Regatta Inn, Nantucket MA

STAY: Regatta Inn. Though there are dozens of hotels, inns and B&B’s on Nantucket, the Regatta Inn, renovated in 2016, distinguishes itself as an unpretentious luxury establishment a few blocks from the downtown action, with a thoughtfully designed interior, great attention to detail, and a warm, gracious approach to hospitality: all at a surprisingly reasonable rate. A true Maven Favorite – read the complete write-up here.

Star of the Sea Youth Hostel Nantucket MA

There are dozens of hotels, inns, and B&B’s on Nantucket, and range from Budget to Luxury, from traditional to contemporary. Even the Star of the Sea Youth Hostel is a knockout, for those with limited funds.

 

Staunton VA: Shakespeare and Diverse Architecture in a Small Virginia Town

Beverly St Staunton VA

WHY GO: Though Staunton VA (pronounced like “stand ton”), is best known as hometown of President Woodrow Wilson and as the rather unlikely setting for the American Shakespeare Center, this mid-Virginia burg will also delight those with any interest in design or architecture: most of the diverse structures lining downtown streets, fashioned by the same “Pattern Book” fan and architect, TJ Collins, between 1890 and 1911, have been restored to their original beauty. An innovative, sophisticated dining scene, an intriguing New World living history museum, and an Historic Hotel rounds out this surprisingly cultural getaway, just minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Things to Do in Staunton VA

Blackfriars Playhouse Staunton VA

TOUR/THEATER: Blackfriars Theater, Home of the American Shakespeare Center. A backstage tour of the “World’s only recreation of Shakespeare’s indoor theater,” Blackfriars Playhouse, is a highlight of a stay in Staunton – even if you don’t catch a professionally mounted show there. Like the “Let’s put on a show in our backyard barn!” scenes from Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movies, Staunton’s Blackfriars Theater sprang from a gun-ho, grassroots movement. Spearheaded by Jim Warren and James Madison University Professor, Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, a JMU production of King Henry V in 1987 was the impetus to build this permanent theater in 2001.

Blackfriars Theater Interior Staunton VA

A plaque in the lobby identifies the “Original sharers of Lord Chamberlain’s Men” – the financial backers of Shakespeare’s plays in 1590 – indicating that the arts have required funding and patrons from the very start. The tour continues into the Elizabethan theater, and then onto the boards, where we’re informed of Shakespeare’s “staging conditions:” some, but not all, followed today. Yes, the theater company now includes women, not young men to play girl parts. And the stools for patrons must keep to the sides of the stage, whereas elite theatergoers in the 1500’s could sit in the center of the action.

Prop Room Blackfriars Theater Staunton VA

But, just as it did originally, the houselights stay on during each performance, and gods still descend from a trap door in the ceiling, while demons, ghosts and supernatural characters emerge from a hidden door on the stage floor. Shakespeare was quite au-courant and would have used the contemporary music of his day in his plays, so these days, pop and rock rule.

Costume sketches Blackfriar Theater Staunton VA

Next, it’s behind the curtains and then downstairs to learn about the guts and workings of this impressive organization. Costumes and props – like swords, chainmail, and severed heads for the current production – are stowed in a small room after being “sourced from heaven,” a much larger space, containing thousands of costumes, on the top floor. You’ll learn about how show directors dealt with – and still handle – the buckets of blood required for a typical Shakespearian tragedy, as costumes were very expensive (think, creative use of red ribbons). One hour tours at 11am and 2pm, Sat 11, April – Oct, Mon-Fri 2pm, Sat. 11 Nov-March, $7.

Irish Forger, Frontier Culture Museum Staunton VA

TOUR: Frontier Culture Museum. For fans of living history museums staffed by costumed interpreters, you’ll be happy to know that the Frontier Culture Museum is one of the best in the country. You’ll need a car to get here, as it’s about 2  miles from downtown Staunton, but it’s well worth at least a few hours to be immersed in the lives of those who came to the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries. The outdoor museum is divided into two parts: the Old World section – cultures that immigrated here, and the American section, contrasting a 1740 settlement and 1850’s home, schoolhouse and church.

Colonial Farm Frontier Culture Museum Staunton VA

A succession of homesteads along a mile-long dirt road represent farms in West Africa, England, Germany, Ireland, as well as a Native American compound from the mid-1600’s until the mid-1800’s. During that era, Europeans settled in the New World, interacted with the indigenous people, and influenced each other, sharing tools and knowledge. Most of the Old World structures (except for the African and Native American farms) were transported from Europe and reconstructed here. The Frontier Culture Museum is uniquely compelling because each pedigreed farmhouse illuminates the forces in the Old Country to drive immigration here.

Frontier Culture Museum West African Compound Staunton VA

The West African Farm represents what the Igbo Tribe from Nigeria were forced to leave behind in the 1740’s, when they were captured and enslaved here (40% of Africans brought to the New World were Igbo). Earthen clay for the thatched huts was mixed by foot so that builders could feel the consistency of the mud. The Igbo brought okra, black-eyed peas and yams, which became the basis for Southern cooking.

English Farmstead Frontier Culture Museum Staunton VA

The English Farmhouse from Hartlebury, England can be dated to 1631 (though the chimney was built in 1692). Inside low-ceiling rooms are reproductions of furniture authenticated by a detailed inventory recorded by the family that lived in this very home. This was a Yeoman’s property – a man considered a member of the “top of the working or good middling class.” Of the 350,000 Englishmen who arrived on these shores from 1600-1700, one quarter paid for passage (others were indentured servants) and thus eligible to purchase land. Sixty acres of property, encompassing this 10 room “wattle and daub” home, would have employed over a dozen field and dairy workers.

Linen Workers, Irish Farm, Frontier Culture Museum Staunton VA

Spend some time in the working 1700’s Irish Forge watching the linen-clad blacksmith hammer out hardware for buildings, and kitchen tools. At the nearby whitewashed thatched Irish Farmstead, originally from County Tyrone in the Ulster Region, women are hard at work making linen; extracting fiber from flax plants, spinning and weaving. During the 1700’s – rocky years in County Tyrone’s linen industry, a good number of Irish natives sought better opportunities in New World.

German Farm Frontier Culture Museum Staunton VA

The German farmhouse built in Horat, Germany in 1688, features a “stuba” – a living room stocked with musical instruments and strategy and gambling games that fostered critical thinking about the inevitable vicissitudes of farm life – important lessons on the frontier. The Museum also encompasses the 1869 Mt. Tabor Church – one of the first African American churches, most likely built by slaves or by the next generation. The Frontier Culture Museum has expansion plans, as well, with a Gristmill and working Artisan Village in the offing. Open daily 9-5, winter 10-4, $12 adults, $7 kids, $45 for a family of four full year pass.

Woodrow Wilson Library and Museum Staunton VA

TOUR: Woodrow Wilson Home, Museum and Library. Born here on December 28th, 1856, President Woodrow Wilson would make his very last visit to his home on his 56th birthday, a few days before his inauguration. By age 39, Wilson had his first stroke, suffered two more after moving into the White House, and was very sick during the last 18 months of his presidency (some credit his wife, Edith, with running the country at this time). Despite his disabilities and illness, Wilson presided over our nation during the first World War, and the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, established the Federal Reserve and Federal Trade Commission, and was in office for the passage of the 19th Amendment – the Women’s Right  To Vote Act of 1920 – acquiescing only “after some arm-twisting from his wife.” Wilson was a proud Virginian, who claimed that “a man’s rootage is more important than his leafage.” Plan on at least 1 ½ hours to take a 30 minute tour of the home (renovated in the 1930’s to appear as if the Wilsons still live there), a self guided tour of the Museum, and to peruse the gift-shop. Open 9-5 daily, in Jan/Feb Thurs-Mon. $12.

Glassmaking at Sunspots Studio Staunton VA

MAKE/SHOP: Sunspots Studios. Ever wonder what it’s like to get off the viewing stand and help a professional glassblower with his craft? This is your chance, and it’s lots of fun. Though your role in the activity is small (choose from an assortment of vibrant colors and then blow air into a rubber tube to inflate a teardrop of molten glass while the artisan shapes it),  you’re right where the action is and can take “your” creation home the next day after it’s had time to cool.

Sunspots Studios Staunton VA

Sunspots’ owners, Doug and Caroline Sheridan, opened this space in 2000 as a lovely glasswork gallery, adding the Studio a year later. Now, even if you do not participate in the making, you can still take home a gorgeous hand-blown piece of art. Open Mon-Sat 10-6, Sun 11:30-5, make your own – $45 or $50 depending on ornament size and color.

Ox-Eye Vineyards Tasting Room, Staunton VA

TASTE: Ox Eye Vineyards Tasting Room. You’ll find this modest tasting room directly across the street from Sunspot Glassblowers. Ox Eye began as grape growers for other wineries in the area – a region known for cool-climate varieties.  Ox Eye’s grapes are grown “in the mountains” and thus produce fantastic Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and other dry varietals. $7 for a taste of 10 wines.

Staunton VA Downtown Architecture

 WALK/ARCHITECTURE: Downtown Staunton. Once on the edge of the American frontier in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Staunton was the last stop on the railroad line and “a rockin’ place” post Civil War. By the late 1800’s it was the perfect canvas for architect TJ Collins who was enamored by Classical Pattern Books from Europe, and designed over 200 buildings – no two alike – in a timeline of styles from Greek, Roman, Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance, Victorian, and other “patterns” from all over the world. Though boutiques, galleries, antique emporiums, and celebrated restaurants have been attracting a growing number of visitors, a stroll down Beverly Street and its offshoots, even if you don’t shop or eat, is a feast for the eyes.

Redwood and Co. Staunton VA

SHOP: Downtown Staunton. There are stores of all kinds, though we do have our funky-favorites, including MADE By the People For the People for all kinds of handmade crafts and Redwood & Co for crafty furniture and home goods.

Appalachian Piecework, Staunton VA

STOP: Appalachian Piecework Antique Quilt Restoration and Care. In this toss-it-right-out consumer society, it’s sometimes shocking to realize that many of our ancestors made their own tablecloths, sheets, and bed-coverings that have stood the test of time, and have been passed down from generation to generation as family heirlooms. If you are lucky enough to have Great Grandma’s quilt, and need it fixed or restored, this very specialized shop and service is the place.

Shenandoah Valley Brewing Co Tasting Room, Staunton VA

TASTE: Shenandoah Brewing Co. Playing off local Shakespearian and mountain-men themes, brews like Hoppy Macbeth and Bluegrass Blend bring ‘em in to this downtown spot where you can also get snacks and flights for $2 per taste (for each 5 oz pour).

Grand Caverns entrance Grottoes VA

TOUR: Grand Caverns, Grottoes. Grand Caverns, “The oldest Show Cave in America,” has been offering tours consistently since 1806  – and was even an off-duty tourist attraction for soldiers during the Civil War. During the Victorian-era, intrepid curiosity seekers used candle-light to crawl and climb though the caverns, taking over eight hours to cover the same ground that the modern visitor traverses in just over a hour. Surprisingly, with all this past fame, hardly anyone outside of the area knows about this cave system. That’s because it’s not right off of I-81, and sits about 20 miles from Staunton. That’s a big shame, and there are several reasons why everyone should visit.

Shield Formations Grand Caverns Grottoes VA

First of all, it’s owned by the people – the Town of Grottoes, population 2,500, acquired it when the Upper Valley Regional Park Authority was dissolved and gifted the attraction to the town. Secondly, most caves have horizontal bedrock, but the underlying rock here is vertical. And most importantly, there are more “Shield Formations” here than in any cave in the country.

Grand Caverns Grottoes VA

Most cave systems have one, if any, such structure; “shields” are that rare. However, Grand Caverns features over 200 of these thin round disc formations, and their unusual horizontal growth is still a mystery to scientists. Named a National Natural Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior, Grand Caverns attracts 40,000 visitors a year for its 70-minute 1.5-mile tours. It’s well worth a drive from anywhere. $20 adults, $11 kids. 9-5 April – Oct. 9-4 Nov-March.

Where to Eat in Staunton VA

Zynodoa Restaurant Staunton VA

EAT: Zynodoa. This innovative Southern-Cuisine restaurant wouldn’t look out of place in, say, Manhattan, with its dramatic back-lit bar and dark grey walls peppered with vividly colored art. But Zynodoa has earned its cornpone-chic reputation as a destination restaurant in small-town Virginia. Naturally, there’s Cast Iron Cornbread ($8), but Zynodoa’s version, a caramelized disc of sweet cake topped with a film of crunchy sugar – a Bluegrass Crème Brulee, if you will – is a danger to all dieters who dare order it.

Cheese Plate Zynodoa Restaurant Staunton VA

Menu items, including the thoughtful cheese assortment presented on a slate slab, are beautifully plated. And dishes like the Southern Fried Catfish ($11), and Polyface Farm Molasses Brined Chicken and Dumplings ($24) prove that the chef has skillful ways with even the most comfortable of comfort food ingredients, most of which are sourced locally. It is no wonder that Zynodoa is considered the top restaurant in town.

Split Banana Staunton VA

EAT: Locals also recommend The Shack – a “not fancy” eatery with a James Beard Finalist chef, Farmhouse Kitchen & Wares, Mill St. Grill, Depot Grill, Yelping Dog for bottles of wine and gourmet grilled cheese, and The Split Banana for an ice-cream splurge.

Where to Stay in Staunton VA

Stonewall Jackson Hotel Staunton VA

STAY: Stonewall Jackson Hotel. The Stonewall Jackson is best positioned for visitors who want to visit the Woodrow Wilson Home and Library (about a block away), tour or see a Shakespeare play at Blackfriars Theater next door, and walk downhill to shop and take in the magnificent architecture. Be assured, this historic brick hotel has more in common with Shakespeare and Staunton’s notable downtown streets, than it does with it’s namesake, the Confederate Civil War General “Stonewall” Jackson. In fact, this hotel offers packages that include tickets to shows at Blackfriars and other perks.

Lobby Stonewall Jackson Hotel Staunton VA

The large granite-floored lobby is a bit stark, but some furniture warms it up a bit, especially when members of local organizations and businesses overflow into areas of clustered seating, animatedly discussing local matters.

Stonewall Jackson Hotel Guest Room Staunton VA

Rooms are subtly decorated in neutral earth tones; white duvets are wrapped around comfy mattresses, granite sinks and photo-art enliven the bathrooms. The whole hotel, first built in 1924, was renovated in 2005, and though not “boutique-trendy,” guest rooms, which feature photographs of local architecture, are upscale-fine for discerning guests who want to stay where the action is. The adjacent garage charges just $6 a night. Not bad for an in-town hotel. Rooms, from $119 offseason, include free wi-fi. 

STAY: Inn at Old Virginia. A gorgeous, genteel B&B just out of downtown, stay here if you’d rather have a more personal experience and don’t mind getting in your car for dining and shows

Fairfax County VA: George Washington’s Home Is Just the Start

Young George Washington Mount Vernon VA

WHY GO: Of course, George Washington’s Potomac Riverfront home, Mount Vernon, is the biggest draw to Fairfax County VA, but those who visit and then leave are missing out on naughty Civil War graffiti, Annie Oakley’s shotguns, milking a cow, The Shuttle Discovery, a Frank Lloyd Wright home, a prison-turned-art-center, mesmerizing waterfalls, planned communities – at least four days worth of activities just twenty minutes from Washington DC. Plan some day trips from the city or stay and explore. We tell you how here….

Things to Do in Fairfax County VA

Mount Vernon Back Porch VA

TOUR: Mount Vernon, Mt. Vernon VA. With over a million visitors a year, George Washington’s Potomac River compound is the most visited Historic Home in the United States. Originally 50,000 acres, now 500 of which 50 are open to the public, encompassing the home, upper and lower gardens restored to their 1787 appearance, George and Martha Washington’s graves, twelve original outbuildings, and a shuttle to Washington’s Distillery (see below), it would take a day or more to see it all.

Mount Vernon Dining Room VA

One of the most remarkable stories about Mount Vernon is how it was acquired from the Washington Family and how it is funded today. In the mid-1800’s, the U.S. Government was virtually broke, as costs of the Civil War mounted. So a local women’s preservation group – the Mount Vernon Ladies Association – raised an unprecedented $200,000 to purchase the historic home. “If the men of America have seen fit to allow the home of its most respected hero to go to ruin, why can’t the women of America band together to save it?” wrote Louisa Bird Cunningham to her daughter in 1853. And so, they did. The home was restored and then open to the public in 1860.

George Washington Death Bed Mt Vernon VA

The original 1-½ story center section, built by George Washington’s father in 1734, and the home’s wings, added by George and Martha in 1787, are in a constant state of refurbishment. In October 2017, the seven-month restoration of the upstairs Blue Room will be completed. Every room offers another relic of historical proportions. In the center hall, you’ll find the key to the Bastille – a gift from Lafayette to Washington post Revolutionary War. You’ll hold on to the very same staircase railing that George himself grasped, sit on the same porch, with transfixing views of the Potomac River, that the Washington’s and guests enjoyed, and tear up a bit when you climb the stairs to the top floor and stand before the bed upon which George Washington died on Dec. 14, 1799. After her husband passed away, Martha closed off the room, never to enter it again.

Caroline Branham Interpreter Mount Vernon VA

While wandering the grounds, you will most likely interact with historic characters in period dress, like the enslaved Caroline Branham, housemaid and seamstress, who you will learn about further in the Donald W. Reynolds Education Center. This museum is a must-do before or after touring the home – with a “sights and sounds multimedia experience” about Washington’s life. As there were no portraits of our first President before age 40, Mount Vernon enlisted the expertise of forensic scientists who created 3-D projections and sculptures of him in his youth. The museum also features a popular exhibit on the 300-plus enslaved workers who effectively ran Mount Vernon. Open daily 9-5 April-Oct, 9-4 Nov-March, $20 adults, $10 kids.

Peter Curtis, miller, George Washingtons Gristmill and Distillery VA

TOUR: George Washington Distillery and Gristmill. Discover how our first President made his own whiskey and spirits. You can see the nuts and bolts of grain and corn milling, watch the 16 ft tall waterwheel turn, learn about the most advanced 1700’s technology, and how whiskey was distilled in Washington’s time at this recently opened historic site. Take the shuttle from Mount Vernon to the reconstructed buildings on the footprint of Washington’s original businesses: flour milling and Rye Whisky making.

George Washingtons Distillery VA

Though Washington had inherited a tobacco plantation, he found that wheat was less punishing on the terrain, and easier to grow. From his 8,000 cultivated acres, he devoted 800 acres to the grain, and from 1771 until his death in 1799, milled tens of thousands of pounds of wheat into the finest flour. By the late 1700’s, Washington hired distiller, James Andersen as his new farm manager. Anderson added rye and barley to the crops, and broke ground on a business he felt would be far more profitable: whiskey. In the fall of 1797, the new distillery was built, and the following year, it produced 4,500 gallons of Rye Whisky. The next year, the year that Washington died, the distillery produced 11,000 gallons, and was considered Washington’s most successful business venture.

GWs Rye Whiskey Mount Vernon VA

Both the distillery and gristmill burned to the ground in 1814, and were rebuilt on their original footprints two hundred years later. Historic Mount Vernon now manages this site, grinds flour and corn, and makes the “Common Whiskey” (off season) the way that GW did – with lots of backbreaking labor and elbow grease. Bags of flour and bottles of un-aged rye whiskey can be found in the gift shop both on site and at Mount Vernon. Though costly ($188 Straight Rye, $155 Peach Brandy) you can pick up a Collector’s Gift Box that includes an airplane-sized bottle and shot glass for $31.50. Open daily 10-5 April through October, included in admission to Mt. Vernon.

Enola Gay, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly VA

GO: Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Annex at Dulles Airport, Chantilly. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was within reach of the B-29 Superfortress Bomber that dropped an Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima. The Enola Gay is but one of the “Big Five” historic aircraft housed in this lesser known but larger-than-its-DC-cousin Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, adjacent to Dulles Airport in Fairfax County VA. And though the aviation hanger-sized galleries are packed with an overwhelming number of commercial and military aircraft, and the museum itself has been touted by Virginia.org as “The Best Place to Get in Your 10,000 Steps,” you can narrow down your visit to an hour by seeking out the five most significant pieces of flying history.

SR-71 Blackbird, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly VA

There’s the Boeing 707 Dash-80, considered the first commercial passenger jet (not the first commercial prop plane, however), with a back-story that includes the barrel-roll derring-do of a pilot attempting to show off to Boeing execs. You’ll behold the never popular enough Concord, which was fast but much too expensive for commercial use, and the all titanium SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest flying machine in the world, which made it from L.A. to Washington DC in 1 hour 4 minutes, 20 seconds. Incredibly, three docents here have actually piloted this stealth beauty.

Shuttle Discovery Enola Gay, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly VA

Though surrounded by breathtaking airships, I found the Space Shuttle Discovery to be the most awe-inspiring of the Big Five. From August 1984 to March 2011, Discovery flew 39 missions. Lying horizontally, it is gargantuan – much larger than I ever imagined and remarkable in its technology and engineering. If you’ve got the time, check out a presentation in the jumbo-sized IMAX Theater that seats 479, and then take the elevator to the observation tower where you can watch airplanes taking off and landing at Dulles Airport. Open 10-5:30 daily, free, but $15 parking.

Woodlawn Plantation, Fairfax VA

TOUR: Frank Lloyd Wright Pope-Leighey House and Woodlawn Plantation. Two very different homes, two distinct eras, two important architects, are on the same “campus.” Woodlawn, the very first property acquired by the National Trust, was designed by Dr. William Thornton – a Renaissance Man who was a physician, artist, and architect best known for designing DC’s Capitol Building. But here’s a little known fact: Thornton, according to the guide, “wanted to turn George Washington into a zombie.” Yep – as a doctor, he came up with a scheme to freeze our first President on his deathbed and re-animate him at a later date: a plan that, thankfully, was never implemented.

Bedroom, Woodlawn Plantation, Fairfax VA

George Washington commissioned Thornton to build this estate for Martha’s granddaughter Nellie and her new husband, Lawrence Lewis, within telescope-sight of Mount Vernon. Woodlawn, first built in 1800-1805, spent just one ownership cycle as a Plantation, before being sold to a succession of people. After Lawrence’s death in 1838, their son, Lorenzo, sold Woodlawn out from under his mother, Nellie, in the 1840’s to the Troth-Gillingham Lumber Company. The Troths and Gillingham’s, Philly Quakers, invited freed slaves and other religious minorities – Catholics and Baptists – to work the land.

Portrait of Nellie Lewis, Woodlawn, Fairfax VA

In the 1850’s, Woodlawn was sold to the Mason family who abandoned it by 1889, and in the 1890’s a hurricane seemed to finish it off. But not to worry. In 1900, the rehab-and-flip-it-nut, New York Playwright, Paul Kesler, purchased the dilapidated property for a song, renovated it from 1900-1905, and sold it to coal heiress, Elizabeth Sharpe, who then modernized it. A year after Sharpe passed away in 1924, the final private owners, Senator and Mrs. Oscar Underwood, lived in the home until 1951, when it was purchased by the National Trust.

A fascinating time-line tour showcases 200 years of adaptations by each owner: the Lewis era in the dining room, Victorian hearth and home parlor of the Masons, the addition of unappealing, low-ceiling second floor hallways by Kesler, radiators in the upstairs massive soaring ceiling bedrooms c/o Sharpe. There’s a portrait of the just-married Nellie “doing her Instagram pose” along with one of her tidy needlepoint pictures, and a bust of George Washington by Hiram Powers, a mid 1800’s artist notable for “introducing nudity to American sculpture.” Guides are full of anecdotes and funny asides, rendering a tour through Woodlawn a very entertaining way to spend an hour.

Frank Lloyd Wright Pope-Leighey House, Fairfax VA

Next door, a short walk away, the 1,200 sq ft. Pope-Leighey House – the only Wright home in Virginia open to the public – built in 1939, was somewhat of a challenge for Wright. This middle-class Usonian house was scaled down from its original 1,800 sq. ft blueprint– a significant reduction of space. Loren Pope had written Wright a “very flattering letter,” admitting that he could only afford two thirds of Wright’s typical Usonian, and the result is as eye-catching and clever as all of his designs.

Living Room, Frank Lloyd Wright Pope-Leighey House, Fairfax VA

Yes, all the famous Wright tropes are present and accounted for: bringing nature inside, “breaking the box,” compression and expansion, in wood, brick, glass, concrete and copper. The living room appears larger than it is, due to soaring 12-½ ft. ceiling, with glass doors and wood-cut windows that create interesting sight-lines and cross-ventilation. The floor is radiant heat, bedrooms are Pullman-Car small, with copper screen on windows to warm incoming sunlight. And, amazingly, the phone has a dial tone. You can still call here. Both Houses open April – Dec., Fri-Mon, 11am-4pm, $20 for both houses. Arrive at the latest by 2pm.

TOUR: Historic Blenheim, Fairfax. This 1859 Georgian style brick farmhouse and estate is less known for its first occupant, the mixed crop and dairy farmer, Albert Wilcoxon, who supplied farm goods to the Confederate troops, and more for its inordinate amount of Civil War soldier graffiti. In fact, Fairfax County has earned the distinction of having the “largest collection of German-born Union soldiers’ signatures who wrote on walls of houses.”

Two years after it was built, Wilcoxon’s home was destroyed by Union soldiers rampaging through Fairfax Court House in 1861, and then vandalized by those who camped out there on several occasions. The resulting “writing on the walls” is so abundant and authentic, historians are able to identify most of the young men who either awaited orders during a 2 week period in 1862, or convalesced here when it served as a Civil War field hospital from October 1862 through January 1863. The average age of those graffiti artists and taggers was 25, most were farmers, and 45% were foreign born (Germany, Bavaria, Prussia, Wales, England, and other countries). Since 1998, 121 soldiers have been identified, along with their regiments, companies, and hometowns.

Historic Blenheim, Fairfax VA Attic recreation

Visitors from all over the world with Virginia roots come here to see their ancestor’s handwriting on plaster walls that have been preserved under wallpaper that was carefully removed. Heinrich Sauermich was three months shy of his 15th birthday when he joined the 73rd PA Volunteer Infantry. He lived to prosper in the tobacco and cigar business. One unnamed soldier with the 4th NY Cavalry scribbled a comic strip depiction of his frame of mind after 4 months of war: First month – “Still a Patriot”; End of one month “hard tack – hard on Patriotism;” 2nd month – “payday – Patriotic again” (though his drawing shows a figure in ripped clothes, falling down drunk); 4th month – “No money, no whiskey, no friends, no rations, no peas, no beans, no pants, no Patriotism.”

Historic Blenheim, Fairfax VA Naked Woman

Most of the injured young men, many just teen-agers, were stashed in the attic, which was never wallpapered. Because of this, it’s where you’ll find the best-preserved graffiti. Sadly, this floor is inaccessible to visitors for safety reasons. But not to worry: the 3rd floor has been recreated in the new Visitor’s Center – so you can see these “diaries on walls” – every signature, every scribble, and every amateur drawing – including crudely explicit men’s and women’s genitalia. Open Tues-Sat 10-3, one hour guided tours 1pm Tues-Sat, free.

Dirty Harry Gun, National Firearms Museum Fairfax VA

GO: National Firearms Museum at NRA Headquarters, Fairfax. I know this is a contentious subject, and many will be turned away by just the thought of driving into the NRA parking lot. But take it from this “left-leaning liberal” – if you want to see the mother-of-pearl pistol and carved wood shotgun used by Annie Oakley in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, if you’d like to peek at the exquisite handiwork of the gold-embossed 1800 Fatou Flintlock Double Barrel Fowler commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, or one of 75 guns used by John Brown at Harpers Ferry, if you’ve got any appreciation for the Smith and Wesson that Clint Eastwood carried in the movie, Dirty Harry or his M-1 from Gran Torino, if you want to see the tiniest pistol in the world in working order, a finely filigreed “Colt Vampire Gun” in its coffin case, or the largest exhibit of Gatling Guns in the world – if you are curious about the history of firearms at all – this larger than it first looks collection of guns spanning 700 years in 15 galleries, is worth an hour, at least.

Walter Weaver 9-11 Gun, National Firearms Museum Fairfax VA

Opened here in 1998 (there are two other museums; one in Missouri and one in New Mexico), the National Firearms Museum is maintained by the non-political arm of the NRA, its Foundation, which offers programs on gun safety. The museum’s centerpiece is a 400-piece assemblage of rare firearms donated by publisher Robert E. Peterson, which included Oakley’s guns and three Parker’s Invincibles – costing $1200 apiece in 1922 and priceless now. Though the Hollywood Movie gallery is the most popular, the most poignant pistol on display is one battered and bent; recovered from the rubble on 9-11, its serial number traced it to NYPD officer, Walter Weaver, who had swapped his day off with a buddy on the force, and whose body was never found. Museum open daily 9:30-5, free. Complimentary tours 1pm Mon-Fri. 

Workhouse Art Center Lorton VA

VISIT/SHOP/MAKE: Workhouse Arts Center, Lorton. Prisoners made the bricks that built this reformatory in 1910, a place that “lower level offenders” would be assigned outside of the “terrible prison conditions in DC.” In 1917, suffragists, arrested for picketing in front of the White House, went on a hunger strike and endured a “Night of Terror” being violently force-fed: a episode that became one of the final straws in getting the 19th Amendment passed. By 2001, conditions here had deteriorated, prisoners were shipped off to Federal facilities, and the blighted property was sold to the county. Used by the Fire and Police departments as a training site, it was flooded, set on fire, and crashed into by buses and helicopters.

Martin Cervantez, Workhouse Art Center Lorton VA

In 2008, however, the facility found new life as an Arts Center, with gallery spaces, 65 artist studios and art instruction. Now, over 800 classes in fine, performing, and culinary arts are taught here every year, along with concerts, brew-fests, July 4th fireworks, and a really, really scary haunted house in October. Each of the dozen or so low-slung buildings ringing a central courtyard houses artists in different mediums: Glass, Ceramics, Blackbox Theater, Art Gallery exhibiting juried art, etc. It would take you days to peruse everything – and meet each artist, but don’t miss stepping into the studio of former U.S. Army illustrator, Martin Cervantez, who, besides creating his own work, fosters creativity in other veterans by overseeing the Workhouse SCAPE (Service member Community Art Partnership and Exchange program) – a form of Art Therapy – every Saturday.

Scrapadermy, Martin Cervantez, Workhouse Art Center Lorton VA

Cervantez, who wears a t-shirt stating, “I don’t need therapy, I just need to paint,” started out here by transforming former guard towers into colorful kaleidoscopes. One of his latest creations– a whitewashed bicycle seat skull with gilded Barbie antlers – is what Cervantez calls “scrapadermy.” Workhouse open Wed-Sat 11-6, Sun 12-5, free.

Milking Cow Frying Pan Farm Park, Herndon VA

TOUR: Frying Pan Farm Park, Herndon. At 4pm every day, guests line up to milk a cow. It’s one of those long lost tasks brought back to life on this 1920’s – 40’s era educational-working farm, and from the looks of it, a very popular activity. Locals love this 135 acre farm, which also features draft horses, pigs, sheep, peacocks and more, as a respite from the city; a place to walk, see animal babies (or even, animals giving birth – just stay out of the “splash zone”), shop in the excellent Country Store, ride the antique carousel, explore the historic buildings, and learn how things were done around the farm in the early to mid 20th century. “Farmers in Fairfax County VA were always multi-tasking, always Type-A,” says a docent/historian. “They were always on the cutting edge of technology – being the best farmers they could be.” Open daily dawn to dusk, free. Draft Horse Wagon Rides 12:30-2:30, $6 pp. Events, e.g. Sunday Evenings Bluegrass Concert Series in the Barn, Oct-April, $18.

Great Falls Park VA

GO: Great Falls Park. Managed by the National Park Service, the Great Falls are aptly named, both for the quality of vistas, and the danger of the cascading water for anyone attempting to navigate these Class V and VI rapids (not recommended, to say the least, by authorities). There are three easily accessible overlooks, just a few minutes walk from the Visitor’s Center, and I can’t emphasize enough how mesmerizing the view of volumes of whitewater surging over boulders can be at sunset. You’ll just have to see it yourself. Open daily dawn to 30 minutes after sunset, Visitor Center daily 10-4. $10 per vehicle, $5 per person walking or biking in.

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, Vienna VA

WALK: Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, Vienna. Did you know that Prickly Pear Cactus is indigenous to Virginia’s Potomac Valley? You’ll discover that on a foray through the wetlands, bogs, ponds, children’s garden, and forests that are part of the NOVA (Northern Virginia) Park System – incredibly, just shy of 20 miles from the Washington Monument in DC. In 1980, environmentalists Carolyn Ware and Gardiner Means donated 74 acres to NOVA as a Botanical Garden and Meadowlark has since grown to 97 acres.

Korean Bell Garden Meadowlark Botanical Gardens Vienna VA

Perhaps Meadowlark’s biggest draw these days is the new Korean Bell Garden, anchored by a three ton seven foot tall handcrafted Korean bell, embellished with both Virginia and Korean symbols and good wishes of peace and harmony from one country to another. Meadowlark’s most popular event is held in the coldest season– its Winter Walk of Lights – when strings of over 500,000 LED lights are coiled around trees, bushes, and rocks, creating a fairytale setting in the darkest depths of the year. Open daily at 10, closes between 4:30 and 7:30 depending on time of year, $5 adults, $2.50 kids.

GO: Claude Moore Colonial Farm, McLean: Time travel back to 1771 at this Living History Museum portraying family life on a small low-income farm.

GO/MUSIC/DANCE: Wolf Trap National Park For the Performing Arts, Vienna. It’s the only National Park devoted to the performing arts in the USA.

MOSAIC District, Fairfax VA

WANDER: A Planned Community: Reston, Tyson’s Corner, Mosaic section of Fairfax. Reston VA was from its inception in 1964 a Planned Community – named after its developer, Robert E. Simon – and the granddaddy of all that followed. Tyson’s Corner, in McLean, encompasses high end residential, hotels, and retail, with a new Mike Isabella high-concept, ten restaurant Food Hall planned for the Tysons Galleria. Mosaic, a very walkable “Urban Village,” is growing leaps and bounds around the Angelika Film Center and Café. Within its expanding boundaries you’ll find Home Depot, Anthropology, Great Gatherings, plenty of independent shops, and great restaurants including Sisters Thai and Requin – with French Mediterranean cuisine by Chef Jennifer Carroll.

Where to Eat and Drink in Fairfax County VA

Red’s Table, Reston VA

EAT: Red’s Table, Reston. A cute rustic-contemporary spot by a small lake, Red’s prides itself on fried chicken ($18), Smokey Chicken Wings ($12), salads, and other locally sourced American comfort food. The food, thanks to Reston natives Matthew, Patrick, and Ryan Tracy, is down-home good, service great, and ambiance a breath of fresh air after a busy day.

Caboose Brewing Co. Vienna VA

EAT/TASTE: Caboose Brewing Co., Vienna. So hot, it’s got valet parking, so cool, it’s slogan is “Good Beer, Thoughtful Food,” Caboose Brewing is known not only for its freshly brewed beer, but also for locally sourced small bites. Try Hummingbird Farm Tomato Salad ($12), Oven Baked Mac and Cheese ($10), Southern Fried Chicken and Blue Cornbread ($13). A stop on the 45-mile Washington & Old Dominion Rail Trail (linking Arlington to Purcellville), Caboose is also a gathering place for cyclists.

Glory Days Grill VA

EAT/SPORTS BAR: Glory Days Grill, Fairfax. Though there are now 30 locations, this is the first, and with dozens of wall-mounted TV’s and private “Sports Select Speaker Box” at each table that syncs to each one, this is an extreme a sports bar as you’ll ever find. Service is great – and food, for such a place with the usual salads, burgers, and chicken – is decent and reasonably priced.

CAVA, Fairfax VA

EAT: CAVA. This is the freshest Mediterranean-food cafeteria-style eatery to come down the pike. Put together your own bowl or plate of base, protein, and toppings, for a toothsome lunch.

Sisters Thai, MOSAIC VA

EAT: Locals love Founding Fathers – American comfort food in Tyson’s Corner, L’auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls – considered the best French restaurant in the DC area, Taco Bamba in Falls Church for innovative taco’s, and Sisters Thai in Mosaic for excellent, inexpensive Asian food.

Where to Stay in Fairfax County VA

Most hotels in the area are large chains. Some of the most upscale, like the Ritz Carlton, can be found in Tyson’s Corner.

Hyatt Regency Fairfax VA Guestroom

STAY: Hyatt Regency Fairfax. This high-end newly renovated Hyatt places you in the center of Fairfax County, and is a perfect location for exploring the area. Large rooms with cushy platform beds are handsomely decorated in shades of nature. Best of all, the full service hotel offers free parking. That’s quite a perk so close to DC.

Dream Midtown Hotel NYC: A Dream of a Renovation

Living Wall PHD Terrace Dream Midtown NYC

If you are hell bent on finding some of the best bars in New York City, you won’t have to move around too much. Three are all in one place – a place you won’t even have to leave after you’ve imbibed a bit: the newly renovated Dream Midtown NYC. Choose between a classic watering hole (The Rickey), one of the largest rooftop bars in Manhattan (PHD Terrace) and a retro game room with free bowling and Skee Ball in a dark basement infused with azure light from a floor to ceiling cylindrical fish tank (FishBowl). If you count the bar at connected restaurant, Serafina Broadway, with a private entrance from the Dream Midtown lobby, there are actually four fantastic cocktail lounges within steps or an elevator ride of each other.

Serafina Broadway NYC

The first of what was to be many Dream Hotels to come, this one, on 55th and Broadway in Manhattan, opened in 2003 “to provide a richer, bolder, and more vibrant experience” to midtown Manhattan travelers. To that end, Dream Midtown installed a massive salt-water fish tank- a statement pillar front and center in the lobby – which became the hotel’s drawing card. It’s the only thing that has survived a recent multi-million dollar renovation that otherwise brightened up the lobby and rooms, added a basement tavern, and expanded the rooftop bar.

First Impressions of Dream Midtown NYC

Dream Midtown NYC Lobby

For those who have been here before, the difference is striking. Gone is the black marble floor and the wood paneled walls in the dark, atmospheric lobby. Now, it’s all off whites and golds, with of course, “Dream Purple” for punch.

Dream Midtown NYC Reception

Reception staff is unpretentious, friendly, and on the ball. You’ll find out in quick order about all three bars and the Dream Midtown’s in-house restaurant, Serafina, and dispatched, post haste, to your newly styled room.

Rooms at Dream Midtown NYC

Guest room, Dream Midtown NYC

All 211 redone rooms and suites are now blazing white-royal purple Holly Golightly- chic. The legendary Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany would feel right at home here.

Dream Midtown NYC Guest Room

Room 1012, a corner Platinum Suite – is a contemporary minimalistic fantasia of violets on snow, a color palette broken only by a charcoal throw at the base of the bed, plum and chartreuse accent pillows and a Charles Burchfield-like muted-mod bauble-flower print on the cushy textural wall that curves behind and up over the bed, like a rotund canopy. A large floor lamp with amethyst hued pillbox shade arches over a small white desk. There’s a narrow rectangular white laminate stand of drawers, round bedside tables and lots of mirrors.

Dream Midtown NYC Platinum Suite Bar

The living room, overlooking Broadway, contains a semicircular expanse of royal purple couch and a white laminate bar (backed with that same Burchfieldesque print wall) ready for entertaining, with bottles of premium spirits on shelves behind it for purchase (i.e. $50 for medium bottle of Grey Goose Vodka).

Dream Midtown NYC Bathroom

Bathrooms, though small, are Carrera marble posh, with glass showers and Euro-style fixtures.

Food and Drink at Dream Midtown NYC

Dream Midtown sure doesn’t stint on drama.

View from PHD Terrace Dream Midtown NYC

PHD Terrace: You can gaze down at Stephen Colbert’s Late Night Theater from PHD Terrace – Dream Midtown’s newly expanded triple-decker rooftop bar. There’s a boffo view of tops of NYC buildings, canyons below, and floral specimens both potted and on living walls around every corner.

Truffle Fries PHD Terrace Dream Midtown NYC

Service is terrific; craft cocktails inventive; and small bites – like the Truffle Fries – are definitely worth ordering.

Covered Roofdeck Dream Midtown NYC

When it’s raining, PHD’s lower level affords views with a roof over your head, and part of it is enclosed when the snow starts to set in. With over 6,000 sq ft of space, and lots of nooks and crannies to choose from, the mood atop Dream Midtown ranges from corner cozy romantic to high-spirited group mingling; with one of the greatest shows on earth unfolding all around.

Fishbowl Dream Midtown NYC Bar

Fishbowl: Meanwhile, below ground, down a spiral staircase, get a gander of the bottom of the lobby’s fish tank at Fishbowl, with a completely different vibe. Knock back some brews in a space that resembles the inside of a pinball machine, though with colorful fish swimming around. Remember those days when you had to leave the house to play arcade games with friends? Fishbowl brings that back, with Skee Ball, 2-lane bowling, and 80’s video-game cocktail tables – all complimentary to play.

Bowling Fishbowl Dream Hotel Midtown NYC

The Rickey: Just off the lobby, The Rickey is your standard, classic bar; low lit, in masculine grays and black, tufted leather bar chairs; a place to meditate on your Gin and Tonic.

Serafina Broadway Dream Midtown NYC

Serafina Broadway Restaurant: There are Serafina’s the world over, from L.A. to New York, Dubai to Japan, India to Turkey. But this one, attached to Dream Midtown and stylized by David Rockwell, has got to be the most glittery: a Fellini-cinema spectacle of metallic mosaic murals. Though very good fish, chicken, and beef dishes are on the menu, devotees of Serafina’s pizza will want to go for the pies. But when I dine there, it’s always a homemade al dente pasta dish for me; either the Rigatoni Bolognese ($19.90), or the heart-shaped lobster ravioli in lobster bisque sauce ($25). So tough to decide as both are downright excellent.

Just the Facts

Rooms from $170, Suites from $390 offseason include wi-fi. Some packages include breakfast at Serafina.

Lancaster County PA; Where Buggy Whips Still Fly Off the Shelves

Amish girls on buggy heading down two-lane Lancaster County PA road

WHY GO: When you come to Lancaster County, PA, please leave your Type-A personality at home.  Time moves slower in this lush farmland, and, wandering the back roads, you will get stuck behind a clip-clopping Amish buggy. Though attractions and shops can be far apart, getting lost on undulating byways is half the pleasure. Breath slowly while reveling in the stark beauty of early morning sun hitting the facade of a local harness shop, riveting scenes of draft horses and straw-hatted men at work in vast fields, the soft bustle of Amish women mixing jam in age-old kettles. Put away your cell phones.  Be prepared to tuck in early for the night. The Pennsylvania Dutch are custodians of a simpler time, and this Getaway allows you to interact with them like never before.

Statue of Amish farmer and buggy outside of Hershey Farms in Lancaster County PA

 Things to Do in Lancaster County PA

SEE: Amos the Amishman, Ronks. Constructed in 1969 originally to draw tourists in to Zinn’s Diner on Route 30, this 15 ft. hunk of a farmer now stands on  Hershey Farm Restaurant and Inn property. Stop by for a photo op (come on, you know you want to) and for “The Best Chocolate Whoopie Pie” in Lancaster County according to a blind taste test.  Hershey Farms began in the 1970’s as a little pretzel stand, but has grown into a newly renovated hotel (rooms from $69 are nice and modern) and Smorgasbord restaurant where you can watch pretzel-makers hand roll the soft version of the snack. 

Mop top alpaca chewing wire fence at Eastland Alpacas in Lancaster County PA

VISIT: Eastland Alpacas, Mt. Joy. Though not associated with the PA Dutch, alpacas are sweet and gentle and a visit to an alpaca farm makes for a perfect addition to a serene Amish Country weekend.  Plus, just-shorn alpacas are achingly cute. There is no word for the extreme cuteness of these little, trusting, giraffe-necked, big eyed creatures. So when you come to Sue and Kevin Zurin’s Alpaca Farm, where you’ll see 120 registered, named, and micro-chipped camel-cousins huddled together and waiting to be fed, it’s almost too much cute to bear.   Alpaca fleece – in 22 natural colors – is finer than lama wool, and you’ll find woven products (ie $19 for a pair of alpaca socks) in a small store onsite.  You can tour the 30-acre property and get close enough to these sweet animals to give them hugs. If you fall in desperate love with them, the Zurins will sell their alpacas to good homes. Call or email for tour or appointment (though drop ins are ok for the store), donation only, 10am-4pm is the best time to come.

 VISIT: Lil’ Country Store, Ronks. Speaking of cute, this Amish family raises miniature horses.  Stop by to see them, watch owner Daniel working in his wood-shop (furniture for sale) and grab an ice-cream or other sweet confection at the makeshift concession stand.

Horse and buggy outside of harness shop, Intercourse, PA

TOUR: Amish Experience VIP (Visit-In-Person) Tour. It’s one thing to see these simple folk as they go about their business.  It’s quite another to engage with them in conversation. This unique three-hour, 14 person, end of day tour makes stops at three different homes while granting golden sunset views of this magical land. “The Other” becomes a bit less so as you speak to dairy farmers, proud that their federally-inspected cow’s milk is considered of high enough quality to supply Land of Lakes, then watch craftsmen make use of compressed air and batteries to aid in weaving or woodworking.

Amish Girl - Lancaster PA

The final stop is a meeting of the minds of a sort where you have an opportunity to sit with an Amish family in their own home and ask them about their culture. Though some stereotypes are true (Amish do not want to be photographed), others are not. They do not live a Medieval lifestyle – Amish homes are quite modern (its amazing what batteries, propane and compressed air can power), with indoor plumbing and large kitchens the envy of many “English.” Mid-June-Oct, Mon-Fri – 5pm-8pm, $59.95 adults, $39.95 6-16,  – this experience sells out quickly, so reservations are a must.

Confederate General John Mosby's Sword, Edged Weaponry Museum, Intercourse PA

VISIT: American Military Edged-Weaponry Museum, Intercourse. I know; this surprisingly compelling museum is an anomaly in this peaceful place, but it does serve a purpose. Find the former Colonial Revival Bank in the center of Intercourse, and you’ll discover where the guys (and knife-collecting women) go when their spouses and friends are off shopping. In his 70’s now, owner/curator Larry Thomas has been collecting rare knives since High School, roaming the country for the most esoteric blades (and lately, guns). Beautifully presented, and succinctly described in glass case after glass case, find the personal sword of “The Great Ghost of the Confederacy” – Col. Mosby – the only Confederate officer who never surrendered and was stripped of his citizenship (he was later pardoned by President Grant), a rare WWII Bazooka, a 13-stamp-part “Grease Gun,” and an attention-grabbing assemblage of “spy” weaponry including Coin Knives, Pencil Daggers, and real pen penknives. May-Nov, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, $5 adults, $2.50 kids. 

Best Shoofly Pie in Lancaster County - Dutch Haven with windmill on top

SHOP/SHOOFLY PIE; Dutch Haven, Ronks. You can’t miss this place.  It’s got the big windmill on the roof, and looks rest-on-its-laurels-touristy. Inside, shelves groaning with souvenirs add to the “tourist-trap” perception. But looks can be deceiving.  This place sells more Shoo-fly Pie than all other bakeries in Lancaster combined.  Why?  Because Dutch Haven Shoofly Pie is awesome; and I don’t use that word lightly. Forget about that gooey, sickly-sweet stuff you endured on former trips to PA Dutch Country. Here, it’s amazing what flour, molasses and water can become. With no eggs or dairy, these pies can stay on your counter for two weeks and in your fridge another two. $10.95 per pie.

"Banjo Jimmy" LaRue and Sideman entertain visitors to Kitchen Kettle Village, Lancaster County PA

DO/SHOP: Kitchen Kettle Village. If you drove by you’d probably dismiss it as a hokey tourist trap, and though you will surely  encounter a coach bus or two in the parking lot, there are several reasons to visit (and stay).  “Banjo Jimmy” LaRue for one.  A portly banjo player, he’s been strumming and entertaining visitors for 35 years.  People come now just to see him, and, as Jimmy puts it, he “babysits all the husbands” who get comfy in the center courtyard while their wives shop.

Another reason to spend time here is for the chow-chow, pickled beets, pepper jam and other small-batch jams and jellies that emerge from decades old kettles; foodies on the lookout for authentic, natural-ingredient condiments are finally discovering this place.  Quick history: just about the time that the Broadway musical Plain and Fancy exposed New Yorkers to Amish culture in 1954, Pat and Bob Burnley began canning jams, jellies and relishes in their garage. The Kitchen Kettle Village, which evolved from that garage as curiosity about the Amish flourished, now encompasses 42 shops, restaurants, and an Inn, and though modernized, still retains those original kettles and canning methods. Pat Burnley, now in her 80’s, remains a fixture here though her children and grandchildren help run the place.

Endless jam and jelly samples at Kitchen Kettle Village in Lancaster County PA

Jam and Relish Kitchen; An incredible million jars of jams and jellies (90 varieties) emerge from these old fashioned kettles per year with just eight Amish women working at any given time. You can watch these industrious ladies – who learn this lost art by helping their own mothers at home– bustling about in an open kitchen. But “take pictures” only with your eyes; photographing them is prohibited.  What you can do is sample from the myriad jars that abound in the store.  In fact, there are folks who visit JUST to eat, and don’t buy anything.  Many jars are a reasonable $3.99, soup mixes $9.99.  Pepper Jam, the “Caviar of Lancaster County,” is the number one seller – perfect as a meat glaze or topping cream cheese. There’s Chow-Chow, Shoofly Pie in the bakery section, and Mint Chocolate Chip Whoopie Pies – my personal favorite.

Racks of colorful handmade women's handbags in Lancaster County PA

Cloverfield Bags – Diane Vincent makes and sells these cool fabric handbags, duffels and totes. Even better, her designer bags start at $32 for one funky fashion statement.

Vibrantly colored pottery line shelves in Kitchen Kettle Village

Garnet Pottery. Find casseroles, plates and unique knitting bowls in a range of beautifully fired colors.

Village Quilts – It takes an artisan 300 to 600 hours to finish a 100% cotton quilt made by hand. These heirloom-quality quilts – from traditional to contemporary –  each made by one of 140 local quilters, may be pricey but keep in mind you are purchasing an individual work of art. Even if you don’t buy – gawking at the colorful bedding is expected and entirely free. Kitchen Kettle Village is open-Sat 9am-6pm, closes 5pm Nov-April.

Second floor bedroom of luxury suite at Kitchen Kettle Village in Lancaster County PA

Where to Stay and Eat in Lancaster County PA

STAY: Inn at Kitchen Kettle Village. There’s something quirky about staying in what at first glance seems like a “tourist trap.” But guest quarters nestled among the shops and streets of this commercial enterprise are surprisingly fine, with reasonable rates and friendly service that befits a family run business – right down to the welcome treat in each room that includes a complimentary travel mug you can have refilled with coffee any time of day throughout the Village. If you like your own “cottage,” but care less that the room itself is somewhat plain, choose a Cottage room. For the best luxury bang for your buck, the rooms over the Quilt Shop building are jaded-luxury-traveler-tested stylish. Ask for 902; a two-level charmer with couches and flat screen TV downstairs and a leather reading chair, subtle greens and ecru pallet, a big, sponged-wall bathroom and, like every single room here, features locally-quilted bedding.

Kling House Restaurant

In the morning, order your complimentary breakfast in the Burnley’s former home – The Kling House. Chances are, you’ll meet the famous Pat Burnley, who likes to greet guests in what was once her living room.  Rooms and suites, $139-$179 include home cooked breakfast, travel mugs (with complementary coffee fill-ups throughout the day), wi-fi and parking.

Cecil County MD: World’s 3rd Busiest Canal Meets “We Bought A Zoo”

Canal Bridge Chesapeake City MD

WHY GO: Cecil County MD is the most undiscovered county in the upper Chesapeake region, and therein lies much of its charm. Encompassing five rivers, the Chesapeake Bay, and an important transportation Canal, this area of Maryland is most known for a land-based sport – Horsemanship. The Fair Hill International is one of the nation’s premier Equestrian Events, newly chosen as one of two 4-star Equestrian Competition sites in the country.

Fair Hill Training Center MD

Cecil County, encompassing the towns of Chesapeake City, North East, Elkton, Rising Sun, and Port Depot, is also where Gore-Tex was invented and is still headquartered, where a crab house sparked a downtown renaissance, where a DuPont restored an historic plantation known for its flowers, and where a real couple “Bought A Zoo” and saved all the animals within. Come along on this quirky, Tidewater Getaway.

Things to Do in Cecil County MD

Mt Harmon Plantation Manor MD

TOUR: Mt. Harmon Plantation, Earleville. The Osage-Tree lined driveway leading up to this magnificent Georgian Colonial manor, built in the 1730’s, seems to go on forever. On 1,200 acres threaded with a river, creeks, and marsh, considered part of the British Colonies, a visit here easily takes you back to the time when Captain John Smith explored these waterways, writing diaries that would compel waves of Englishmen to settle in this part of the New World. In fact, says a docent, “if you were here in 1607, you would have witnessed Smith coming up the Sassafras River – and in 1813, you’d have seen the whole British fleet sailing up.”

Grounds River Mt. Harmon Plantation MD

Horticulturalists know about Mt. Harmon due to the prevalence of American Lotus flowers on the creek behind the home. The property is so singular and pristine; it was listed as one of the few “Treasured Landscapes of the Chesapeake.”

Chippendale Furniture Mt Harmon Plantation MD

Marguerite du Pont de Villiers-Ortiz Boden, a descendant of the Louttit and George families who lived in the home from 1760-1810 when Mt. Harmon was a wealthy tobacco plantation, restored the mansion to that era when she lived here in the 1960’s. With her Du Pont money, she purchased the best furnishings of the time: Chippendale chairs with clubfoot legs, a ceremonial Huntsman’s Chair with carved hound arms, hand-painted wallpaper from the Orient, and a very unusual slat painting from the 17th century of Lady Arabella Stuart who appears as a young woman or a skeleton depending on where you stand.

Purple Kitchen Mt Harmon Plantation MD

There are no cordoned off areas on a house tour. You can get within a pinky’s distance of most treasures as the docent leads you through one breathtaking room after another, into Marguerite’s modernized over-the-top marble bathrooms (with sunken tubs), and purple modern kitchen (Boden loved the color), discussing the valued contributions of Marguerite and her daughter, Kip, who established the Friends of Mount Harmon, Inc to insure the Plantation’s future. With a dredged river and restored docks, you can now get here by boat as well. Open Thurs – Sun 10-2, with guided tours on the hour, $10.

Chesapeake Inn boat docks Chesapeake City MD

VISIT: Chesapeake City. Even if you don’t stay over, this place is arguably the most picturesque town in the county – situated right on the “World’s third busiest shipping Canal,” the 14-mile C&D Canal linking the Delaware River to the Chesapeake Bay. There are several gift and antique shops in town – one, My Jewelry Place, in an old bank – and plenty of photos ops.

My Jewelry Place Chesapeake City MD

Homes that line Bohemia Ave., which ends at the waterfront, are sweet and charming. The Canal, owned and operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers, allows plenty of freighters from around the world, but no oil tankers. You very well might just see a Car Carrier bringing 5,500 automobiles to the Port of Wilmington DE – one of the largest auto ports in the country.

View of Canal from The Bayard House, Chesapeake City MD

WALK/RUN/BIKE: 17-Mile Ben Cardin C&D Canal Trail. Traversing the far side of the C&D Canal, this paved trail goes all the way to Delaware City. Cycle, walk, or run – you will be far from alone. You can easily get from one side of the canal to the other (both sides are considered Chesapeake City) via the Chesapeake City Water Taxi.

Patti Paulus The Palette & The Page, Elkton MD

EXPLORE: Elkton MD. A county seat, Elkton was never much of a tourist town, but it’s slowly turning into one. There’s a famous historic Soda Fountain (see below) and several art shops to peruse. Craft shop enthusiasts will love The Palette & The Page, a larger than it first looks shop that features the unique work of 38 artists and gently used books, chosen and lovingly curated by owner, Patti Paulus. Next door, Brookbend Interiors upcycles old cast offs and makes them new again.

Milburn Orchards MD

VISIT/SHOP: Milburn Orchards, Elkton. Opened in 1902, Milburn Orchards is more like a spotless grocery store than a farm market – with picture perfect produce, and popular cider donuts. Now run by it’s 4th generation, Milburn is at heart an Apple Orchard, and so you’ll find more apples here than anything else. But if you want to pick your own, you can; cherries, berries, grapes, and of course apples.

Milburns Pink Tractor MD

The complex includes a massive backyard “Farm Yard” – anchored by a pink tractor painted to raise money for breast cancer research. There are all kinds of barn animals here, including goats – the smallest of which get to gambol on top of Yoga practitioners for Goat Yoga!

Entrance Plumpton Park Zoo Rising Sun MD

VISIT: Plumpton Park Zoo, Rising Sun. Poor Jimmy the Giraffe. He’s without a “wife.” But not to worry – fans of the Plumpton Park Zoo have started fundraising for one. Jimmy is the “Face of the Zoo” that was purchased and rescued by Cheryl and Nick Lacovara. A “30 year old rundown zoo,” the Lacovaras completely revamped and improved it – replacing every enclosure.

Owl Plumpton Park Zoo Rising Sun MD

Eighty percent of the animals were rescues who were “in horrible condition,” and here, says Cheryl, they can “live out the rest of their lives in peace.” Cheryl loves bonding with and feeding the baby animals born here, and did so with two brown bear brothers who “love to be sprayed with a hose on hot days.” Each animal is named and has constant contact with humans – making it safer for the handlers.

Chimp Plumpton Park Zoo Rising Sun MD

Endearingly, staff know to a creature what is going on: Godiva, the pony “has weight problems;” One of the Jackals just has surgery and is limping, but should be fine in a few days; Louis the Black Bear and Eve the Brown Bear don’t live together but are having a bear affair – “they pass each other treats through the fence;” cockatoos and Blue Gold Macaw are “misfit birds that get along in the same cage:” Arctic Foxes were rescued from a fur farm; Dakota the Bobcat was once a house cat, a female peacock rests on her eggs perilously close to the walking path, and on and on.

Even if you’re not into zoos or don’t have kids or grandkids with you – this place is balm for the heart, though, yes, the animals are in cages. Having been injured or raised domestically, they wouldn’t be able to live long in the wild. And they all seem eager for human attention. $12.95, $8.95, daily 10-5, last admission 4pm.

Downtown North East MD

SHOP: In North East. This little town isn’t even in northeast Cecil County, but it’s got a catchy name, no? Twenty-three years ago, North East was a “one horse fishing village” known for its commercially fished herring and rockfish. Then, Woody’s opened – with its brown paper covered card tables and boiled crabs – drawing the likes of Martha Stewart. The Woody’s phenomenon has been a boon to this town, which is now like an outdoor boutique shopping mall. Here are come favorites:

North East Chocolates MD

North East Chocolates; owned by Christie McDevitt, come in for the smoothest, silkiest fudge ever, signature salted caramels, nostalgic candies, and 100 varieties of hand-crafted chocolates. Her store is always packed with people, and has been so successful, McDevitt has opened up a second one in Chesapeake City.

Sterling Station North East MD

The Sterling Station – owned by injured vet, Joe Carbone, who makes sterling silver and stone jewelry he sells for “$35 or less.”

Sweet Spice North East MD

Sweet Spice Bakery – ambrosial baked goods, like signature Potato Chip Cookies, and one of the best selfie walls in MD.

Toby the Golden Hero Gifts – Toby the Golden Retriever saved his owner’s life by pushing her to the floor and jumping on her chest when she was chocking on an apple. Afterwards, Toby was struck with bone cancer, treated by a great vet, and has been 5 years cancer-free. Now, Toby’s owner is “paying it forward” by donating proceeds from her store in North East MD to help pay vet bills for others.

Continue on for the Cat’s Pajama’s – handmade crafts on consignment, Kathy’s Corner Shop – nautical and Amish made items, Bee’s Nest Prims for primitive and country home décor, Kreative Journey for cute gifts, and Silver & Sassy and The Silver Buckle for cool clothing and accessories.

North East Community Park, North East MD

WALK: North East Community Park, North East. Though you’d never know you were near the water in downtown North East, continue about a mile down Main St. to find a great town park (just a few minutes off of I-95 and a great leg stretcher). There’s a lovely walking trail along North East Creek and North East River, where you may see kayakers or SUP’ers tranquilly gliding by, along with a picnic area, playground, and a small Fishing Heritage Museum.

Port Deposit Granite Stairway MD

DRIVE: Port Deposit. This granite quarry town on the Susquehanna River saw its glory days in the 1800’s when stone from here was shipped to other locales first by boat and then the railroad. One street separates the looming granite cliffs, Port Deposit Stairs, and sturdy granite buildings from the river – and it’s cool to drive down this lost in time, but rebounding town.

Lees Landing Port Deposit MD

A few popular restaurants line the riverfront – the more sedate Back Fin Blues and the hopping Lee’s Landing with tiki bar. A bit out of town, the logcabin Union Hotel still packs ‘em in for meals. Port Deposit has been cursed with repetitive floods, however. Every time the Conowingo Dam releases water, it floods here.

Where to Eat and Drink in Cecil County MD

Wellwood Club Dining Room Charlestown MD

EAT: The Wellwood Club, Charlestown. Owned by Larry Metz, this astounding eatery, comprised of a bare-bones crab house and fine and casual dining rooms, was, in the mid 1870’s, a Philadelphia Union League retreat, complete with hotel, golf course, and some of the best fishing and duck hunting in the world. Presidents and government officials would take the train from the city: Grover Cleveland, Teddy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and John F. Kennedy all spent time here.

T Roosevelts Carved Eagle Wellwood Club Charlestown MD

Metz’s father and ballerina mother purchased the place in 1958 (a painting of her, in tutu, hangs on the wall), and then in 1999, put it up for sale as it sat idle. Enter Larry, who ditched his life as a horse trainer to come back into the family biz.

River Shack Crab Fest at Wellwood Club Charlestown MD

Now, the place thrums again with diners – last year, The Wellwood served 87,000 people who arrived by car and boat (there’s a 50-slip dock out back for patrons). Metz is happy to show customers around the dining rooms that also serve as a museum. The curio cabinet holds ceremonial china and silver from various Washington events – many pieces from JFK. There are plenty of paintings and historic documents. There’s a lamp donated by Coolidge, and a carved eagle from the White House, donated by Teddy Roosevelt when his office was being renovated.

Wellwood Fried Chicken Charlestown MD

Yes, the Fried Chicken is as legendary as they say; tasty, moist and crunchy ($11.99 for 4 pieces), but you’ll also find other fantastic dishes like the Local Fried Yellow Tomatoes dredged in buttermilk topped with sweet crab corn salsa with crab and apple cider reduction ($12.99), and plenty of seafood. If you want to bash and pick at some boiled crabs on papered tables to your hearts content, you can do that in the Club Room or in the separate picnic like River Shack.

Chesapeake Inn Scene MD

EAT: Chesapeake Inn, Chesapeake City. There is so much going on in this canalside eatery – boats pulling up to several docks, the Tiki Bar in full swing, “The Deck” a casual outdoor eatery thrumming with young bloods, and an almost hushed fine dining room upstairs – you almost forget that you’ve come here for the food and service.

Chesapeake Inn Deck Chesapeake MD

Say hi to Tommy, one of the best bartenders on the Bay, then order a Special like the hot salmon with cool tzatziki topping – a standout, or “Naked Fish” with your choice of Sicilian, Orange Ginger Basil, Creole, Blackened, or Chesapeake with Crab Imperial and Lobster Sauce. The Chesapeake Inn (which has no rooms), has been expanding over the years, and from the looks of it, brings a lot of attention to this small town.

View from Patio The Bayard House, Chesapeake City MD

EAT: The Bayard House, Chesapeake City. The quiet antidote to the Chesapeake Inn, you can watch boats slip by on the Delaware and Chesapeake Canal – right outside the window of this surprisingly good restaurant. Appetizers like the crunchy-tasty Duck Eggrolls ($10) and Seared Yellowtail Tuna ($13) prove the chef has chops.

Prime 225 Chesapeake City MD

EAT/CHESAPEAKE CITY: Locals also love Schaefer’s on the far side of the channel for waterfront views practically under the C&D Canal Bridge; The Tap Room – a real old fashioned rustic crab house (cash only); and Prime 225, considered by many to serve the most innovative and sophisticated cuisine in town.

Spork Elkton MD

EAT: Spork, Elkton. Spork is adorably barn-chic, with its reclaimed barnwood counter, mongo Cinnamon and Sticky Buns, fresh frozen lemonade, amazing just-picked greens in creative salads, soups, and sandwich – all from scratch. My favorite – the Corn Quinoa Red Onion Salad, which put the overexposed grain back on my “eat” list.

Lyon’s Pharmacy Elkton MD

BEST SHAKE: Lyon’s Pharmacy. If you’re a fan of Kitchen Impossible, you might have heard of this little ole luncheonette/pharmacy in MD, established in 1875, and owned in the late 1900’s by Tony Sniadowski. The episode, Prescription for Failure ran in 2015 and brought a lot of inquisitive people to this little town. Now run by Tony’s daughter, Mary Beth Cole (he passed away in 2007), a practicing pharmacist, Lyon’s is once again a central downtown gathering place for people looking for a quick crab cake, burger – or one of many flavored thick and satisfying Shakes.

Woody’s North East MD

EAT/NORTH EAST: Locals love Woody’s, which effectively turned the town into a tourist destination with its crab fests and steamers; Chesapeake Bay Coffee Co, for donuts and fresh-roasted coffee; Station Ale House in an old fire house offering live music and hearty food; Beans, Leaves, Etc. – the first coffee house in town; Steak & Main for high-end dining, reputed to have the “#1 Steak in America” according to the Travel Channel; and Porthouse Grill for what some call the “best crabcakes in the region” (an oft-made claim in these parts).

Chateau Bu De Winery Chesapeake City MD

TASTE: Chateau Bu De Winery. The ruins of the 1660’s property of Augustine Herman, a cartographer from Prague, are juxtaposed with new construction for production and wine tasting events at this popular winery, known for its Cabernet Franc, which recently won a Gold Medal in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. Come, also, to taste other delectable blends; the Summer Flight (3 2oz pours for $10-$15) with Dry Rose (a big hit), and the lovely, picnic wine, Flagship White, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

ICE CREAM: Kilby Cream Dairy Farm, Rising Sun. Great homemade ice cream straight from the cow. It’s way, way out in the country in a very rural area (it’s a farm, after all!), but folks have discovered it and made it an ice-cream destination.

Where to Stay in Cecil County MD

Porch Inn at the Canal Chesapeake City MD

STAY: Inn @ The Canal, Chesapeake City. Built in the 1870’s by a boatman on the C&D Canal, the Inn @ The Canal is not technically right on the canal, though you can see it from a 70 ft long side porch, and walk to its banks in a minute from the charming front porch. Now owned by Culinary Institute of America (CIA) grad, Bob Roethke and his wife Carol, it is a gracious and delicious place to bed down in Chesapeake City.

View from Inn at Canal, Chesapeake City MD

On a late summer’s eve, all rooms were taken, with guests hanging out in the large study, and on front porch wicker chairs – the perfect spot from which to watch Bohemia Ave. walkers stroll by.

Guest Room Inn at the Canal, Chesapeake City MD

All 7 guest-rooms are Victorian period vignettes – each slightly different. Mine was one of the larger rooms, with carved four-poster canopy bed, antiques, floral bedding, and a clean, step-down bathroom with wooden chest of drawer sink and ceramic floor.

Inn at the Canal Breakfast Chesapeake MD

Breakfast, of course, is fantastic – a full gourmet treat, with fluffy French Toast and warm Apple-Berry compote to start. There are many tables to choose, but if available, take the small one in the bay window – a bright and sunny place to start your day. Rates $110-$229 include snacks, wi fi, and gourmet breakfast.

STAY: Shipwatch Inn. Antique-filled rooms right on the Canal, many with balconies. $104-$250 depending on size of room and time of year. And Blue Max Inn – with spacious romantic rooms and sidewalk porches, $110-$275.

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